Herman Kumara is a well-respected Sri Lankan human rights defender. Convenor of
the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, founder member of People to People
Dialogue on Peace and Sustainable Development [PPD], an active member of
Platform for Freedom [PfF], and a board member for the Women for Development
Alternatives of Sri Lanka. He has been active in many projects and has made an
incredible contribution to Sri Lankan, as well as international, human rights
leading figure of the Sri Lankan civil society was accused wrongly of being the
cause of protests by fishermen
against fuel price increases of up to 50% as
announced by the Government, in February 2012.
The demonstrations ended into violent clashes. Antony Warnakulasuriya, 35, was
killed and several other were critically injured during the melee between the
Police and the fishermen when the State forces indiscriminately opened fire
with live bullets without any warning.
The Sri Lankan Government and the state media tried
desperately to accuse NGOs of being responsible for this murder, saying
that the protests were organized by anti-government forces. Addressing a
cabinet press briefing on 23rd February, a group of Ministers described the
recent protests against the fuel price increase as an “NGO
funded conspiracy” supported by the West.
|Fisherman, Negombo Lagoon, South-West Sri Lanka. Copyright Chloe Dsbnt. |
The trigger for persecution of Herman Kumara was a statement the Fisheries
Minister then made in Parliament:
“After the fisherman had reached an agreement,
certain opportunists mobilized this protest. I will identify them by name.
There is a man called Anura. The other person is Herman Kumara. ..... They are
the real murderers."
Since then, Herman Kumara has received repeated threats, surveillance and
intimidation. Fearing to be murdered or abducted he has been obliged to live
covertly for a while. During that time the Sri Lanka campaign interviewed him, and
we include that interview at the end of the article.
Returning from an international conference in Rome
at the end of February, Herman found out that he was
being closely watched by the Government. He was being followed by suspicious
cars, people in his village - as well as direct neighbours - had been
questioned about him and asked his family’s details: including his address and his
vehicle number. Meanwhile five of NAFSO’s employees were visited at their homes
by intelligence officers and questioned about the Herman and the organization’s
There was clearly a plan to abduct and/or murder him.
Mr Kumara’s wife and NAFSO filed official complaints about the threats and surveillance against him. However, no credible action appears to have been
taken to investigate the threats or to provide him with adequate protection.
This case is far from being unique. Since the end of the war, arbitrary arrests
and abductions have become common in Sri Lanka. 58
abductions have been registered in the last 6 months
. Many of the victims
were those who are not afraid to talk against Rajapaksa’s Government: journalist,
human rights defender, and religious leaders -all of them now defined by the
title of “anti-Government forces” or Traitors. People like Herman Kumara testify
to the critical condition of the rule of law in Sri Lanka.
Do you want to help? Please Act by joining the Asian Human Rights Commissions Urgent
Appeal by clicking here.
An interview with Herman Kumara:
Herman, we now know a bit more about the hard situation you have been recently
officially accused of illegal acts by the governmental authorities?
|NAFSO Office, Negombo, South-West Sri Lanka. Copyright Chloe Dsbnt.|
No, I have never been accused of any illegal action; there
have been no complaints to the police, or any case in the courts about me. I am
doing my work within the framework of the democratic and political rights stipulated
by the Sri Lankan constitution.
I have been an active member of civil society
for the 20 years since 1992, I have never once received a complaint of illegal
action from any government authority.
It was only the present Minister of
Fisheries who accused me, claiming we are the responsible persons for the
instigation of fishermen against the “incredible fuel price hike”. This was a
spontaneous act of fishermen and no organization or trade union was involved.
regarding Sri Lankan law, commit any
illegal acts that could be used to justify actions against you? Or lead to the threat of abduction?
No. There is no such illegal act committed by me or my
Even if anyone else committed such an illegal act, the
abduction or kidnap is not the way to respond it. There is a legal procedure.
Sri Lanka is a so called democratic country. People respect the judicial system
and still there are ways to take legal action for any crime. Extra judiciary
acts cannot be justified at any cost.
There is a culture of silence prevailing
for such acts. Majority people in the south justified the abductions,
disappearances, intimidations, harassments during the war time. Now, the same
system is being applied to people in the south and the cost is very high. So,
southern people are learning lessons today as to what the Tamil ethnic minorities
faced over the last three decades.
You got back
to Sri Lanka at the end of April, do you still fear for your life or to be
I went back to Sri Lanka because I have my role to play as a
human rights defender. There are thousands
of such people struggling to ensure the rule of law, work against impunity,
establish the right to freedom of expression, the rights of ethnic minorities, the unended cries of the internally displaced
people, the problems faced by women headed families, and as a whole establish
democratic rights of the country.
So, I wanted to join hands with them as one victim among
thousands. However, the danger is not over. Once you were targeted, you will
not be safe even though you were able to escape once or twice. So, I am taking
all possible steps to be safe and to survive. But I will continue my
engagements to make Sri Lanka a democratic and decent society.
|Small fishing boats, Negombo Beach, South West Sri Lanka. Copyright Chloe Dsbnt.|
explain a little bit how your life looks like in Sri Lanka? What are the kind
of precautions you must take to feel as secure as possible?
I cannot explain all of my precautions as that would put me
in further danger.
I work in a high profile a manner as possible and I take as
many security measures as possible in my private life. That is the main strategy
I have adopted
However, my main precautionary measure is working more with
the communities and building up trust. Perpetrators want to discredit my work
and my name using all possible ways. My biggest strength is the trust of the
people whom I am working with.
engagements with local, national and international social movements are my strength. They keep an eye on me and my engagements.
there was a spate – we
called it an epidemic – of abductions. That now seems to have stopped. It
is a false impression? Can you explain what are the reasons in your point of
There were three major incidents that exposed the government
engagements in the abductions in recent past. One was the attempt to abduct the
mayor of Kolonnawa urban council. The other one was the abduction and releasd
of a provincial councillor who is a brother-in–law of a cabinet minister. The last
one was the abduction of the leader of the Front-line Socialist Party and a political
In the first event, the Kolonnawa mayor and his people were
able to capture the perpetrators and hand them over to police. But police did
not take any legal action against them; there was a report that the DIG (Deputy
Inspector General of Police) for Colombo division attended to the case and took
the perpetrators to freedom.
In the second incident, the provincial councillor was
released some time after the abduction. Then he came to the media and
innocently revealed how he was released with the intervention of his
brother-in-law, the cabinet minister. Divaina , a Sinhala language newspaper,
reported that the cabinet minister had phoned the president and his brother, the Secretary of the Defence ministry then got
involved to release him from the abduction.
|Negombo Canal, South-West Sri Lanka. Copyright Chloe Dsbnt.|
The third incident was the release of the Frontline
Socialist Party leader and the activist. With the involvement of the Australian
high commissioner and the pressure from internal and external forces against
the abduction, the perpetrators had to release both of them. It was somewhat
long story but the involvement of the authorities was also exposed.
So, due to these very
public embarrassments, the rate of abductions has drastically reduced during
the few weeks since early April. However, there was another abduction reported
within the last week. So, we cannot say the perpetrators are ready to give up
their illegal operations just because they reduced their vigour for the time being.
In my opinion, there is another important factor. The
implementation of the recommendations in the LLRC (Lessons Learned and
Reconciliation Commission) report and the National Action Plan for Human Rights
is one of the important issues in front of the government. Unless we implement
the LLRC recommendations, we will have to face the consequences in March 2013
when the UN Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva. At the same time the
Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has sent the foreign minister to the USA to
explain how the GoSL is planning to implement the LLRC recommendations. The UN UPR
(Universal Periodic Review) will be happening
So, the government need to implement some of the actions in some
of these plans or we will face serious embarrassment in front of the
international community. So, all these are challenges to the Sri Lankan Government
and they need to show [or at least pretend] how seriously they take measures to
ensure rule of law and establish democracy in the SL society.
Herman, thank you
very much, and the best of luck.
Here, in a separate interview, you can see Herman discussing the threats made against him