SLAPP in Sri Lanka

About this Violation

About this Violation

Human rights defenders are often judicially harassed due to their work on human rights. Strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP) is a term coined to describe the use of legal frameworks, strategies and political and legal actions with the intention of treating human rights protection as illegitimate and illegal. It usually comprises criminal and civil lawsuits directed at human rights defenders with the purpose of intimidating them, by draining their psychological and financial resources and ultimately silencing them.

What is a SLAPP?

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are lawsuits that are filed or initiated with the intent to intimidate and harass HRDs who are engaged in acts of public participation, including criticism or opposition concerning business activities.

An example of SLAPP is where a mining company files a defamation lawsuit against a journalist. Through the lawsuit the company claimed that it has been defamed by the journalist’s article, requiring them to pay a large amount of money in damages

In response to the practice of SLAPPs, other companies have amended their policies, adopting a zero-tolerance approach to threats against human rights defenders. Investors are also taking action against SLAPPs and a company that uses such a practice is sometimes not preferred for investment.

A number of governments have adopted anti-SLAPP laws that aims to protect defenders from SLAPPs in various ways. The international community has also been very vocal against SLAPPs. The UN has established a special procedure for human rights defenders and the attacks they are receiving, called the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, who has often commented on the use of SLAPPs.

The practice of SLAPPs by companies contravenes the internationally recognized rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, which are protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition, by filing SLAPPs companies ignore the UNGPs which explicitly mention that all enterprises, regardless of their size, context, ownership or structure have a responsibility to respect human rights, should not abuse rights of others and if they do, should provide a remedy for that violation. 

The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has urged businesses to identify, prevent and mitigate any risks that human rights defenders might face, including SLAPPs.

SLAPPs in Sri Lanka

As elsewhere, in Sri Lanka, the most commonly filed SLAPP is civil defamation.


The Prosecutor filed criminal charges for defamation against you because you oppose the project of a big mining company. 

Human rights protections from SLAPPs

According to section 14(1)(a) of the Constitution, your freedom of speech is guaranteed. Restrictions can only be imposed by law, in the interests of racial and religious harmony or in relation to parliamentary privilege, contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. 

If you have been continuously faced with those types of lawsuits, it might be useful to know that the Constitution of Sri Lanka includes protections against judicialisation and criminalisation. Section 13 foresees protection from ex post facto laws and double jeopardy.

File a Complaint with the Police

File a complaint with the Police 

The most commonly filed SLAPP in Sri Lanka is defamation lawsuits. In the past, defamation was not only a civil wrong, but was also an offence criminalised under the Sri Lankan Penal Code. However, this provision was repealed and therefore filing a police report is no longer an option. Currently, defamation can be alleged as a civil wrong. For more information see File a Complaint with a National Court

Facing a criminal trial and asking for compensation once the trial has ended

Warning: Before taking any of the steps listed below, you can strategically assess the risks involved with taking certain actions and make sure that you prioritise your physical and psychological safety and security. 

Facing a criminal trial and asking for compensation once the trial has ended

When you are facing criminal trial

Defences during your trial

If a state official has filed a lawsuit against you alleging that you defamed them, it is useful to know the elements of that wrongdoing. A lawsuit for defamation against you might be successful only if:

  • You expressed a false and defamatory statement for the person who is suing you;
  • This statement was published, in the sense that it was not a mere thought of yours, neither was it shared only with your best friends. Being published means being able to be seen by others;
  • You published that statement either maliciously or negligently; and/or
  • Such publication resulted in damage to the person who sued you.

On that basis, as a defence you can put forward different claims:

  • You can claim that what you said or reported was true and can be justified by evidence and facts. Its publication was an issue of public interest.
  • You did not defame anyone, you merely expressed your honest opinion on a public matter, without any intention to defame.
  • You revealed something that is of paramount importance to the public, like the statements made by Members of Parliament during proceedings or those recorded in the Hansard (absolute privilege) or you fairly and accurately reported on judicial proceedings which are open to the public (qualified privilege).
  • You shared information on the person who is suing you without knowing that it was defamatory, or you did not intend your statement to refer to the plaintiff.
  • Your words were used as a joke and understood by the audience as such (Jest).
  • Your words were in reply to similar words used by the person who is suing you (Compensatio). Note that you should show that your statement was necessary for self-defence and in order to establish the defendant’s character. Also, you need to show that the retort was relevant to the imputation made against the defendant and bears some proportionality to the original attack.
  • You uttered words during a quarrel, where there was an exchange of abuse (Rixa).

Filing an appeal

If you are convicted of defamation and you disagree with the decision of the court, you can file an appeal to the Court of Appeals. Before filing an appeal, you should ask the court its ‘leave’ to file an appeal and convince it that the matter involves a substantial question of law or is a matter fit for review by the Court.

Asking higher courts to quash orders

If an administrative authority, a state official or a court, carries out an act, issues a decision or omits to do so, which somehow influences your human rights protection during your trial, you can consider filing a writ petition. Those petitions can be filed, when you want to ask the court to issue an order directing lower courts or authorities to do something or stop them from doing something. Depending on the specific circumstances of your case, you might choose to file one of the following writs:

  • Writ of Mandamus: with this petition you ask the higher courts to order the lower court, tribunal, forum or any other public authority to perform a public or statutory duty and to do any act that forms part of their official duties and they have failed to perform.
  • Writ Of Prohibition: with this petition you ask the higher courts to prohibit lower courts, including the tribunals, forums or any public authority (magistrate, commissions or any other judicial officers), from exceeding their jurisdiction, when they do something which exceeds their jurisdiction.
  •  Writ of Certiorari: with this petition you transfer the matter before a superior authority for proper consideration because the lower one has exceeded or did not have jurisdiction. The higher court can quash an order already passed by an inferior court, tribunal or quasi-judicial authority.

What can you ask for?

Depending on which petition you will file, you can ask the court to order the performance of duty, to quash other authorities’ orders, to prohibit lower courts from doing something. You can also ask the court to grant interim relief in the form of a stay order. The Court will order it if it appears that the refusal of the interim order would render the final order nugatory if the petitioner is successful.

Where do you file it

You can choose to file your writ petition to:

  • To the Court of Appeal, and appealable to the Supreme Court; or
  • To the Provincial High Courts. You can file before the High Courts if the violation took place within the Province of the High Court.

The two courts have concurrent jurisdiction, which means that they both have the power and competence to hear the case! 

Once the charges against you have ended

Asking for compensation 

If you have suffered harm due to the SLAPP litigation against you, you can initiate a counter-civil case for defamation and ask the offender for ‘damages’ for the reputational and other harm that you suffered (defamation delict) as well as for instituting erroneous legal procedures (delict of misuse of legal procedure). 

Who can bring the action?

If someone (person or entity) has committed a wrong against you, then you can file a lawsuit for delict. Also, persons who have a common interest in bringing or defending an action, can file a collective lawsuit, with permission of the court and must provide notice of the action to all relevant persons. However, note that Sri Lankan law does not explicitly recognise class actions. 

Against whom?

Your harm was induced due to the wrongful act of a state official or agency. You can direct your claim against that official or agency, but you can also include the state as a respondent.


You should file the lawsuit at the District Court of your jurisdiction. In order to try your case, the court should have territorial and pecuniary jurisdiction and no other court should have exclusive jurisdiction. 

Time limit: You should file civil suits within two years from the time when the cause of action has arisen.

What should you prove?

Your case will be acceptable if you demonstrate the following elements:

  • Conduct: your harm should have resulted from a person’s or an entity’s action or omission.
  • Wrongfulness: You should demonstrate that the act or omission was wrongful, namely it infringed a legally recognised interest.
  • Fault: the act or omission should have been carried out with intention or negligence. Negligence means that the perpetrator breached their duty of care and should not have acted that way, under common reason. 
  • Causation: Causation means that there must be a connection between the perpetrator’s conduct and your damage. 
  • Damage: You should prove that you suffered damage, either monetary or not, including pain and suffering, emotional shock, disfigurement, loss of amenities of life and shortened life expectancy.

What should you expect?

The court can award the following remedies:

  • Damages such as:
    • actual expenses, e.g. medical 
    • damages for pain and suffering and disfigurement (if any)
    • expenses that you will have to incur in the future as a result of any disablement
    • loss of earnings during the period of incapacity
    • loss of future earnings if the disability is permanent.
  • Declarations (in the form of a court finding that the conduct of the defendant was wrongful);
  • Permanent injunctions (in the form of a court order requiring the defendant to do or cease doing a specific action; and/or
  • Specific performance. As a general rule, specific performance is only awarded where damages are deemed insufficient.

What if you are not satisfied with the outcome?

If you are aggrieved by the decision of the court, you can file an appeal to the Court of Appeals. Before filing an appeal, you should ask the court its ‘leave’ to file an appeal and convince it that the matter involves a substantial question of law or is a matter fit for review by the Court. 

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    Note That

    In order to file a civil case, you will have to pay the lawyers’ fees as well as stamp duty for every document tendered to the Court according to the value of the claim.

File a Complaint with the Administrative Authority or State Commission

Warning: Before taking any of the steps listed below, you can strategically assess the risks involved with taking certain actions and make sure that you prioritise your physical and psychological safety and security. 

File a Complaint with the Administrative Authority or State Commission

Informing the superior officers 

If a state official has filed a SLAPP against you, resulting in a severe restriction of your rights, it might be a good idea to start by informing the authority/or officer that is superior to the one who wronged you. In the Government Information Centre you can find contact information of various agencies and offices.

By informing superior authorities, maybe your complaint will be resolved without resorting to court. However, your safety is always first, so before lodging a complaint, you should inquire whether there are safety guarantees in place. If you decide to inform the superior authority, try to file the information in a written format, so that you have proof of it, in case you need it in the future. 

National Police Commission

If a police official has filed a SLAPP against you, you should consider approaching the National Police Commission. The Commission is responsible to monitor, supervise and sanction cases where the acts of police officers amount to dereliction of duty or grave misconduct, including cases of arrests, searches, detention, assault/intimidation/abuse/threat, refusal/postponement to record a statement required to be made to the police, making deliberate distortions in statements recorded and miscarriage of justice resulting from misconduct by a police officer, undue delay in making available certified copies of statements made to the police, discouraging complainants and witnesses from making statements, use of abusive words, threats or intimidation to complainants and witnesses and inaction and partiality by the police in taking action on complaints made.

After you submit your complaint, the Commission will investigate it. According to the law, the Commission is empowered to ‘provide redress,’ but it seems that it mostly imposes fines and disciplinary sanctions to officers, and in a few instances, it forwards cases to the court.

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    If you belong to the Vedda indigenous population and a state official has filed a SLAPP against you, you can consider informing the Wannietto trust. The Trust was created by the Presidential Cabinet order "to protect and nurture Veddha Wannietto culture". By informing them about your case, you will not receive a remedy, but they can potentially offer precious advice on how to achieve redress. Importantly, by informing the Trust, and having your case registered, you will have proof of the attack, in case the situation escalates in the future. 

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    If you are a woman human rights defender, and a state official has filed a SLAPP against you, you can consider approaching the National Commission on Women, under the administration of the Ministry of Women, Child Affairs and Social Empowerment. The Commission has the power to investigate complaints of violations of the rights of women and gender discrimination and refer them to a governmental and civil society organisation for redress, legal aid and/or mediation services.

    Note that there is a Women Help Line 1938. For more information you can check this website.

Report it to the National Human Rights Commission or the Ombudsman

Warning: Before taking any of the steps listed below, you can strategically assess the risks involved with taking certain actions and make sure that you prioritise your physical and psychological safety and security. 

Report it to the National Human Rights Commission or the Ombudsman

National Human Rights Commission

As a human rights defender, it is possible that state officials file SLAPPs against you, in order to silence you. Those acts are possibly violating your freedom of speech. You can therefore consider approaching the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), , which is responsible for investigating human rights complaints and promoting human rights protection.

What can you report

For violations of your human rights by state officials and state agencies.

Who can complain

You and your lawyer. The law also allows ‘any interested party’ to file a complaint.

How can you complain

You can lodge your complaint in person, sent by post, by email, by fax or by giving information through the HRCSL hotline. For more technical information, see here.

What should you expect?

The commission has the power to investigate and recommend compensation. However, it cannot enforce its recommendations. After an allegation is proven to the satisfaction of the commission, the HRCSL may recommend financial compensation for victims, refer the case for administrative disciplinary action or to the attorney general for prosecution, or both. If the government does not follow an HRCSL request for evidence, the HRCSL may summon witnesses from the government to explain its action. If the HRCSL finds the government has not complied with its request, the HRCSL may refer the case to the High Court for prosecution for contempt by the Attorney General’s Department, an offense punishable by imprisonment or fine.

Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman)

As a human rights defender, it is possible that state officials file SLAPPs against you, to silence you. Those acts are possibly violating your freedom of speech. You can therefore consider approaching the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman).

The Ombudsman is responsible to investigate complaints by the public in relation to violations of fundamental rights caused by the officers of Government Departments, Public Corporations, Provincial Councils or other state Institutions. They can also suggest recommendations on how to reverse erroneous administrative decisions.

How do you file the complaint

You file it in written form. Complaints can be lodged by hand delivery, by registered/normal post or by way of an e-mail.

Essential information to be included in a complaint:

  • The complaint shall be clear and brief in Sinhala, Tamil or English.
  • You should clearly refer to the decision you are challenging, the officer against whom the complaint is lodged and the position he holds along with his/her address.
  • You should attach copies of documents proving the alleged injustice.
  • You should mention the kind of relief you are seeking.

What should you expect

The Commissioner for Administration (Ombudsman) will conduct an inquiry and make recommendations on the situation.

Report it to the International Community

Report it to the International Community

Sri Lanka has ratified several international human rights treaties. Those treaties provide you with certain rights and the state with certain obligations. For every right that you have, the state has a corresponding obligation to respect and fulfil that right and to protect you against abuse of that right by third parties. This means providing the necessary tools so that you can enjoy that right.

Sri Lanka has ratified the following international human rights treaties:

  1. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). 
  2. Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (OP-ICCPR)
  3. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). 
  4. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). 
  5. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). 
  6. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (OP-CEDAW)
  7. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)
  8. Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OP-CAT)
  9. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),
  10. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC)
  11. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OPSC)
  12. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  13. International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. 
  14. International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance

In addition, the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights apply to all states. The Guiding Principles implement the UN "Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework, which rests on three pillars:

  1. that the state has a duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication;
  2. that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights, which means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address adverse impacts that occur; and 
  3. that, the state, as part of its duty to protect against business-related human rights abuses, must take appropriate steps to ensure that when such abuses occur, those affected have access to effective remedy through judicial and non-judicial means. 

Therefore, if your rights have been violated by a state agency or official, then the state will be responsible for this violation. If a corporation has committed an abuse against you, then the state will have responsibility for failing to protect you against that abuse. The state might also incur responsibility, if it did not adequately investigate your case or did not provide you with an avenue to seek a remedy. 

Depending on the right that has been violated, you might also have different options to engage the international community and seek redress.

If your rights as a woman, a child or a person with disabilities have been violated, the respective legal framework foresees complaints mechanisms, or Committees where you can seek a remedy.

For rights beyond those enshrined in CEDAW and CRPD, there is no process that will result in a concrete remedy for you. However, you may want to consider approaching the international community and making your case internationally. As will be analysed below, this can be useful in improving the human rights situation in your country.

UN Human Rights Council Special Procedures

The Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council (‘Special Procedures’) are independent human rights experts (‘Rapporteurs’) and ‘Working Groups’ with mandates to report and advise on thematic human rights issues. 

With the support of Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), special procedures can:

  • Undertake country visits
  • Act on individual cases of reported violations and concerns of a broader nature by sending communications to States and others
  • Contribute to the development of international human rights standards, and
  • Engage in advocacy, raise public awareness, and provide advice for technical cooperation.

In cases of business-related human rights abuses, you can draw the attention of your government and raise public awareness by submitting a complaint to the Special Procedures. You can submit a complaint to the Special Procedures if you have suffered an abuse by the state or by a business. Where a business has caused the harm, the state is also responsible for failing to protect you, investigate the harm, and/or provide remedies.

The UN has established various Special Procedures. In cases of attacks against human rights defenders that work on business and human rights issues, the most relevant are:

  • Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
  • Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (also referred to as the “UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights”)
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change
  • Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment
  • Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
  • Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
  • Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
  • Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples
  • Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy
  • Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes

These are just a few of the Special Procedures. You can find a comprehensive list here.

In addition, in June 2022, the world’s first Special Rapporteur on environmental defenders was elected under the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention).  The function of this new Special Rapporteur is to ‘take measures to protect any person experiencing or at imminent threat of penalisation, persecution, or harassment for seeking to exercise their rights under the Aarhus Convention'. You can submit a complaint to the Special Rapporteur even if domestic remedies have not been exhausted and any information submitted will be kept confidential.  The new Special Rapporteur has various tools for resolving complaints and protecting environmental defenders quickly including: 

  • Issuing immediate protection measures; 
  • Using diplomatic channels;  
  • Issuing public statements; and  
  • Bringing the matter to the attention of human rights bodies and the government concerned. 

Who can submit information

Information submitted to the mandate-holders may be sent by a person or a group of persons who claim to be the victim(s) of human rights abuses. Non-governmental organisations (‘NGOs’) can also submit information, provided they have direct and reliable knowledge of the alleged abuse. 

Under what conditions

Your communication should fulfil the following conditions:

  1. Communications must not be exclusively based on mass media reports. 
  2. The communication should contain a factual description of the alleged human rights abuses, especially any available information as to the date and place of the incidents, alleged perpetrators, suspected motives, and contextual information.
  3. The communication should be submitted based on credible and detailed information.
  4. Include full details of the sender’s identity, address, the name of each victim (or any other identifying information), or of any community or organisation subject to the alleged abuse. In communications to governments, the mandate-holders normally preserve the confidentiality of their information source, except where the source requests that its identity be revealed. 
  5. Indicate any steps you have already taken at the national, regional, or international level in relation to the case. However, you do not need to have exhausted domestic remedies to have your allegation examined by Special Procedures.

How to submit information?

The application for all Special Procedures is the same. Upon receiving the information on your case, the UN will notify the relevant mandate holders. Therefore, you do not have to choose the specific mandate holder for your case, but you must present your case so that all appropriate offices are notified.

Any communication addressed to Special Procedures mandate-holders must clearly indicate what the concern is in the subject heading of the message and be addressed to: 

Special Procedures Division c/o OHCHR-UNOG

 8-14 Avenue de la Paix 1211 Genève 10, Switzerland 

Fax: +4122 917 90 06 

Email: (for complains and individual cases) 

For any other information:

You can find the link here.

What should you expect?

It is left to the discretion of the mandate-holder to decide whether to act on a given situation. Usually, the Special Procedure will investigate the case and send a letter to the government regarding the abuse that you reported. The letter will ask for clarifications. Where necessary, the Rapporteurs may request that the concerned authorities take action to prevent or stop the abuse, investigate it, bring to justice those responsible and/or make sure that remedies are available to the victim(s) or their families. In these letters, the Rapporteurs may also inform the state of the applicable human rights provisions. In cases where the state is repeatedly failing to reply, the mandate holder might issue a press release. Upon receiving information on abuses, mandate-holders may carry out visits to countries to investigate the human rights situation on the ground. 

Note that the Special Procedures Rapporteurs do not have power or authority to enforce their views or recommendations.

Who can you reach out to for support? 

To increase exposure and collaboration with the OHCHR, it is recommended that you build relationships with your local OHCHR office. A Human Rights Adviser (HRA) is part of the UN Country Team (UNCT) in Sri Lanka.

Office of the Resident Coordinator

c/o UNDP, 202-204 Bauddhaloka Mawatha

P.O.Box 1505

c/o UNDP - Colombo

202-204 Bauddhaloka Mawatha,

Colombo 7

Tel. +94 11 2580691 Ext: 2400

Fax 94 11 258 1116

If possible, it is also recommended to visit the OHCHR in Geneva or network with organisations that work directly with the OHCHR. 

The Complaint Procedure of the Human Rights Council 

What is the Procedure? 

It is a confidential procedure that aims to address consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested human rights violations in all UN member states, irrespective of whether they have ratified any particular treaty. It is useful for drawing attention to serious underlying problems and calling on the UN to investigate human rights situations in different countries. However, it is not a procedure that will provide a tangible remedy in a particular case. 

Who can submit a complaint? 

The complaint  must come from a person or a group of persons alleging a violation of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. In addition, NGOs are permitted to lodge a communication provided they have direct and reliable knowledge of the violations.  

Under what conditions? 

Your complaint will be admissible if the following conditions are met: 

  1. It should include your name or the name of the organization who is filing it. Its subject should be consistent with the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and international human rights law. Your application should not be politically motivated.
  2. Your complaint should give a complete description of the facts of the alleged violations, the rights that were violated as well as the perpetrator(s). It should not be based exclusively on mass media reports. 
  3. You should attach to your complaint  copies of all documents of relevance, especially administrative or judicial decisions on the complaints issued by national authorities.The language of the communication must not be abusive. 
  4. Your complaint should not have already been dealt with by a Special Procedure, a treaty body, or any other UN or similar regional complaints procedures in the field of human rights. 
  5. You should have first exhausted domestic remedies, (i.e., you should attempt to use the available national legal protections to seek accountability or reparation for the violation, appealing as necessary until the claim can be pursued no further at the national level) , unless those remedies would be ineffective or unreasonably prolonged. You should demonstrate the steps you took to exhaust domestic remedies in your application.

Process for filing under that procedure? 

You should send your complaint to:

Complaint Procedure Unit

Human Rights Council Branch

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

United Nations Office at Geneva

CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Or by e-mail to: or to any country or regional office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

What should you expect?

After an initial screening is done, your complaint will be transmitted to the State concerned to obtain their views on the allegations of violations contained therein. You will be informed of the proceedings at the key stages and you might be asked to provide further information if necessary. 

The Human Rights Council will examine a report of your case in a confidential manner (unless it decides otherwise) and may decide one of the following: to discontinue considering the situation when further consideration or action is not warranted; to keep the situation under review and request the State concerned to provide further information within a reasonable period of time; to keep the situation under review and appoint an independent and highly qualified expert to monitor the situation and report back to the Council; to discontinue reviewing the matter under the confidential complaint procedure in order to take up public consideration of it; to recommend to OHCHR to provide technical cooperation, capacity building assistance or advisory services to the State concerned. 

All material provided by individuals as well as the replies by the Governments remains of confidential nature during and after the consideration by the Complaint Procedure.

Filing a communication to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Some treaties also establish a ‘Committee’ which you can approach when your rights are violated. If an abuse occurs in Sri Lanka, the Committees of the following three conventions have the competence to investigate complaints:

  • the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 
  • the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 
  • the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Therefore, if your rights as a woman, a child or a person with disabilities have been harmed by the threats, intimidation or harassment that you suffered, then you can file an ‘individual communication’ to the respective Committee.

  • Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
  • Human Rights Committee 
  • Committee Against Torture

Note that your rights can be violated:

  • By the state directly; or
  • By the state indirectly, if a corporation has committed an abuse against you, and your state fails to prevent the abuse, investigate your case and/or provide remedies.

Under which conditions can you file a communication?

  1. You should be the direct victim or a group of victims. You may also bring a claim on behalf of another person, with proof of his/her consent (unless the person is in prison or is a victim of an enforced disappearance).
  2. The complaint should include your name, nationality, date of birth, mailing address and email, and specify the State party against which the complaint is directed. If the complaint is brought on behalf of another person, proof of his/her consent should be provided. You can request that your personal information remains confidential.
  3. Your communication should be very specific when describing the act or omission that amounts to an abuse of human rights. You should also give sufficient information regarding the facts and the arguments put forward.
  4. You should refer to the treaty provision(s) that you allege has been violated.
  5. You should give detailed information on the alleged perpetrator.
  6. You can file the communication alone, but you should also consider the assistance of a lawyer or an NGO.
  7. You should avoid bringing the same complaint before the same Committee if no new circumstances have arisen.
  8. Your complaint should not be under consideration in another international or regional mechanism at the time of submission. 
  9. You should first exhaust domestic remedies, unless they are unduly prolonged or clearly ineffective, including any judicial or administrative remedies, and appeal processes to obtain protection and/ or just and fair reparation for the violations suffered.
  10. You should file your communication as soon as possible. 
    • For the Human Rights Committee you should file your complaint within 5 years of the exhaustion of domestic remedies. 
  11. You should file the complaint in one of the official UN languages (Chinese, Russian, Arabic, English, French or Spanish).
  12. You can attach to your communication any supporting documentation you deem appropriate (translated into one of the official UN languages), such as the authorisation to act for another person, decisions of domestic courts and authorities on the claim, the relevant national legislation, any document, or evidence that substantiates the facts, etc.

What can you ask for?

You might ask for interim or provisional measures before the adoption of a final decision. Those measures can be asked in urgent cases to prevent irreparable harm to the alleged victim, while the case is still pending consideration by the Committee.

“Irreparable harm” refers to harm which, due to its nature, cannot be susceptible to reparation.

If you request interim measures, you must demonstrate that the risk of harm is real and personal and that, should it materialise, the damage would be irreparable. Typical interim measures include, for example, the suspension of the execution of a death sentence or deportation to a country where the person faces a risk of torture or ill treatment.

At any stage of the process, you can also request the adoption of protection measures from reprisals and retaliation. 

Who to reach out for support? 

It is recommended that you work collaboratively with NGOs to bring the abuse to the attention of UN bodies. If you require support with your communication, you can find a list of organisations which can provide you with guidance and assistance here. [Add link to resource hub] 

Necessary information to include in the communication

You can find the form here.

  1. Signature
  2. Date
  3. The treaty provisions invoked
  4. The Committee it is addressed to
  5. Your personal information and contact details to be used for communication
  6. The capacity in which you submit the communication (victim, parent of the victim, another person) 
  7. Name of the state concerned.
  8. Information and description about the alleged perpetrator(s) of the violation(s). 
  9. Description of the alleged violation(s)
  10. Description of the action taken to exhaust domestic remedies. If they have not been exhausted, explanation of why this has not happened. 
  11. Action taken to apply to other international procedures (if any). 
  12. Supporting documentation

Where to send the communication?

  • Mail:
    Petitions and Inquiries Section
    Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
    United Nations Office at Geneva
    1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
  • Fax: 
    + 41 22 917 90 22
    (particularly for urgent matters)
  • Email:

What can you expect?

The respective committee will receive information from you and the state. Depending on the situation it might ask the state to adopt interim or protective measures to prevent irreparable harm being done to the victim of the alleged violation. Then, it will decide – if applicable – if the state will recognize the violation or find it ill-founded. The committee’s decisions are not legally binding, but the state has a good faith obligation to take it into consideration and implement the recommendations, simply because they have signed the respective treaty.

More information can be found here.

International Labour Organization - Representations’ procedure

The International Labour Organization (‘ILO’) is a specialised agency of the United Nations, responsible for developing and overseeing international labour standards. It has adopted 189 Conventions. The most important of them are the eight fundamental Conventions, which cover a broad range of topics concerning work, employment, social security, social policy and related human rights. They are legally binding on the states that have ratified them. 

Sri Lanka has ratified the following fundamental conventions: 

  • Forced Labour Convention (No. 29)
  • Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention (No. 87)
  • Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98)
  • Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100)
  • Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105)
  • Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111)
  • Minimum Age Convention (No. 138)
  • Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182) 

You can find the Conventions ratified by Sri Lanka here.

What protections does the ILO offer

If any of your rights that are protected by an ILO Convention have been violated by your state, then you should consider approaching the ILO, through the ‘Representations’ procedure.’ 

The procedure allows employers’ or workers’ organisations to make a representation against any Member State that has failed to respect the convention. You can also resort to that procedure, if a private company is violating your rights, and your state fails to protect you.

Who can file a complaint?

Individual victims are not permitted to file complaints before this Committee. Rather, you should inform a national or international organisation of workers (trade union) and they can file the complaint on your behalf. In Sri Lanka these include: the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC), the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), the National Workers’ Congress (NWC) and the Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya (SLNSS). More details can be found here


The representation must:

  1. allege that a Member State has failed to adhere to a Convention which it has ratified;
  2. be communicated to the ILO in writing;
  3. come from an industrial association of employers or workers;
  4. make specific reference to article 24 of the ILO Constitution;
  5. concern a Member State of the ILO;
  6. refer to a Convention to which the Member State in question is a party; and
  7. indicate in what respect it is alleged that that Member State has failed to secure the effective observance within its jurisdiction of that Convention.

Note that it is not necessary to exhaust all domestic remedies before applying for representation with the ILO. If a case is pending before a national court, this will be taken into consideration by the ad hoc Committee. 

How to submit a representation?

All applications should be addressed to the Director General at the following address: 

4 Route des Morillons, CH-1211 Genève 22, Switzerland 

Or by email to:  

Complementary Strategies

Complementary Strategies

Achieving justice and remedy for the abuses that you suffered as a human rights defender working on business-related human rights abuses can be a lengthy and difficult process. It may require a combination of patience and strategy, and you may have to call on different resources to achieve your goal. A comprehensive approach may include using legal remedies together with other kinds of complementary strategies such as strategic campaigning, shareholder accountability strategies, grassroots mobilisation, coalition building or gaining media attention. 

It can be overwhelming to think about these considerations right after an abuse has taken place. Before thinking about the strategies, you want to use, try to make sure you are both physically and mentally safe and strong. 

Remember that you are not alone in this situation and that there are a range of organisations that can help you and provide you with immediate support in case of an emergency or financial, legal and psychological difficulties. See Resource Hub.

Building a Strategic Campaign

The first thing you may want to consider is building a strategic campaign. A strategic campaign aims to exert pressure on the different strategic relationships of a business or state actor. To develop a strategic campaign, you should carefully analyse your situation and decide which actions will have the most positive impact for your case. 

For example, you will have to decide whether you want to deal with your case publicly or privately, loudly or quietly, in a manner that takes into account the political and other sensitivities that exist in your country. The purpose of the strategic campaign is for you to get a clear picture of the situation, the direction you want to take your case and the concrete actions you can attempt to take to achieve this result. 

This whole process will be demanding on your resources and your mental and physical health so do not hesitate to reach out and ask for help from organisations that are used to dealing with similar cases! There is no shame in doing so and they can provide you with valuable expertise. See Resource Hub.

To build a strategic campaign you and your collaborators can follow these five steps:

1- Identify your objectives and overall goal: You can do this by asking yourself questions such as What do I want to happen? What do I hope to achieve?

Your overall goal will be the long term and general outcome that you want to achieve. To reach this goal you will need to identify smaller steps and specific milestones that need to take place, these will be your objectives. 

! When deciding on your objectives, make sure that they are SMART:

  • Specific - well detailed, well defined and action oriented;
  • Measurable- meaning that you can quantify and have an indicator of progress;
  • Achievable- meaning that they can be realistically accomplished in the proposed time-frame and with the resources you possess;
  • Relevant- meaning that they are relevant to your overall goal and work;
  • Time-Bound- meaning that you have set a clear deadline. 

2- Take the time to do a policy analysis and identify your audience: You can identify the policies and regulations that need to change, the key actions and stakeholders who can influence decisions and understand the overall political context that will influence your overall goal. You will further need to identify the stakeholders that can help you achieve your objectives. For example, who are the decision makers involved in the issue? What are the power dynamics at play? You should understand why and how each audience you approach can play a role in reaching your goal or can hinder it. Do not forget, when considering actors that could hinder your goal, to be as specific as possible and write down all details you can find on them including their names and functions. 

! Note that if some corporate actors can hinder your goal, other business representatives might help you achieve it! Businesses do not all have the same policies and attitudes when it comes to the respect of human rights and the environment. By interacting with business representatives and industry groups you might find valuable allies that can provide you with support in a variety of ways including testifying on your behalf, paying for bail and fines, or speaking up on your behalf. 

3- Identify your strengths, weaknesses and your message: It will be helpful for you to reflect on your internal strengths - skills, knowledge, resources, past experience - and weaknesses - missing networks, capacity for lobbying, contacts in the media or funding. Once you have identified these, you can search for opportunities that exist around you and will enable you to tackle your weaknesses and achieve your objectives. You should further consider the threats that could prevent you from achieving your objectives by asking yourself who are your opponents? Is there a negative political climate around your objective? Identifying them early will enable you to minimise the damage and safety risks they can present.

Once you have reflected on your strengths and weaknesses, you will need to identify what your audience needs to hear and present your message in a persuasive and appealing way. At their core, your messages should be the same, however, depending on the audience you will target, you will need to adapt the way they are framed. Most of the time, advocacy messages have two major components: (1) a calling for what is right and (2) a calling for the audience’s self-interest. You can find different methods to develop advocacy messages by using the key words “advocacy message” and “effective” on google.

4- Identify your tactics and activities: Depending on your situation and objectives, you will have to use different strategies and tactics to reach your goal. To choose the appropriate tactics for you to use, you can develop a ‘results chain’. The chain will start with your overall goal and outline the small steps you will need to take to get there. In your chain you can describe the assumptions you are making about the impact of the activities you plan on doing. This will help you reflect on your logic and might show you missing activities. It will further help you understand the kind of resources, be it financial or volunteers, that you will need to put your campaign into action. There are various organisations that you can reach out to for financial support. See Resource Hub. 

A few examples of activities include one-to-one meetings with high level representatives, the organisation of workshops and conferences, the drafting of a letter to international civil servants, a mass participation event engaging members of the community, social media posts or petitions. 

5- Monitor and Evaluate: Finally, you want to make sure that you are keeping track of the efforts you are putting into your campaign to ensure that they are working. You will also want to organise meetings to monitor the campaign and make sure it is going in the direction you want. 

Grassroots Mobilisation

Grassroots mobilisation is about bringing together individuals - in your district, region, or community - to influence a specific outcome. It is one of the key elements in successful campaign strategies. Grassroots mobilisation can be highly effective, as we have seen with the #SaveAru movement, because it uses collective action at a local level to influence outcomes at the national level. When every member of the community is participating in ways that they can, and are equally responsible and invested in the cause, the movement is truly powered by collective leadership. The costs of the movement are further distributed between all members of the community and thereby become more affordable. 

To build grassroots mobilisation, you and your collaborators can follow five simple steps: 

1- Identify the cause you want to address and make a plan of action;

2- Find supporters and volunteers to join your campaign; 

3- Reach out and partner with local organisations and community leaders;

4- Implement your plan of action; and

5- Regularly evaluate your progress. 

! Do not forget that, when it comes to mobilising members of a community, listening and understanding is more important than influencing and persuading. Having several short conversations will be more efficient than a one-off long speech to a general audience! 

To get started, you should identify the cause you want to address 

(1). The problem that you want to tackle most probably has a root cause. For example, it can be the lack of respect for human rights and the environment by a company which operates in proximity to your village and has threatened you; the absence of legislation by the government to protect people defending the environment; or the inefficiency of local government officials to implement a law, among other potential root causes. You need to identify the root cause you want to tackle so that you can clearly define the actions and steps you want to take to resolve the issue. Defining the outcome, you are looking to achieve will also be crucial to give your movement a clear direction. 

Once you have identified the cause you want to address, you can start creating awareness about your campaign and get interest from individuals in the community 

(2). Communication will play a key role here and you can use different approaches such as door-to-door canvassing, face-to-face conversations, emails, phone calls or social media to reach as many community members as possible. Having a campaign website or a Facebook page can be a useful tool to speed up this process and will make you gain important visibility online! It will further constitute a good opportunity to start building the next step by building a list of potential partner organisations. 

Using your website and the networks of members from the community you can approach like-minded local organisations and community leaders. See Resource Hub.

(3). To reach out to them you could offer to give a short presentation about your campaign during their events or simply provide your help during their rallies to get to know like-minded people and talk about your campaign. Usually, civil society organisations have dealt with or assisted defenders in similar contexts in the past. They can share their valuable experience with you, guide you on what to do, explain the law and your rights, guide you on where to find support and identify pro bono lawyers that can help you plead your case or provide support in building an advocacy campaign. 

! You should not ignore community leaders! Community leaders can be valuable allies that you can collaborate with to convey important messages of your campaign. If a community leader endorses the changes and propositions you raise, they will be more likely to be accepted and followed by the community and your movement will gain traction. Examples of community leaders that can help you are religious leaders, local political office holders or village figureheads. 

Once you have built a solid basis of supporters you can start implementing your plan of action 

(4). You can take a variety of actions as part of your plan including rallies, outdoor events, in-house groups, training sessions, organising for a group of volunteers to exchange with the local representative or staging a demonstration. No matter the activity that you choose to conduct, the key to success will be having successful communication. You can keep your supporters up to date on actions conducted through SMS, WhatsApp, and encrypted apps such as Telegram and/or post your announcements for events on your campaign website and Facebook page. Do not forget to communicate with your organisers and volunteer team to make sure everyone has the same information including the date, time, and place of the events. 

During your campaign, you can organise regular meetings with your supporters to evaluate the success of your actions 

(5). This will enable you to reflect on what went well and what did not and give you avenues for improving your upcoming events. At the end of the campaign, it will also enable you to see if you have reached your objectives. 

Coalition Building

Reaching out to other organisations and talking about your case will give you the opportunity to build coalitions. A coalition is a temporary alliance of individuals, groups or organisations that want to achieve a common goal. Forming a coalition with other organisations that have similar values, interests, and goals as your own will allow you to combine your resources and thereby have more impact than if you acted alone. It can be of great help to shift the balance of power and increase the impact of each of your organisation's efforts. Actions taken by the coalition can be focused towards bringing attention to your and other human rights defender cases in the media, requesting for a motion filed by lawyers to be considered or request the international community to act. 

To successfully build a coalition you need to take a series of steps.

  1. Before anything else, you should define what your main goal is. Your main goal will be at the centre of the initiative and organisations that you are going to approach are going to ask about it regularly. Ideally, you want to be able to present your goal in a manner that is easy to understand and appears attainable. To do so, you can present it through bullet points illustrating the key ideas and goals and condense it to one sentence. 
  2. Then you should identify your key stakeholders, leaders, and players. You should be strategic when choosing the organisations to enrol in your coalitions, recognising compatible interests between you, your organisation and other groups or organisations. Stakeholders may include local civil society organisations, international non-governmental organisations and national or international trade unions. 
  3. Once you have identified who you want to be a part of your coalition, you can start approaching and trying to mobilise them. You may need to demonstrate to the organisations that your goals are similar and compatible. You can also show them how working together will have a positive impact on everyone’s ability to reach their objectives and that the benefits from building a coalition will outweigh the costs. 
  4. While attempting to mobilise partner organisations, you must keep in mind that building a coalition can be a long process and that your short-term goals might transform into longer-term battles. Keep committed to your objectives, with a little flexibility, so you can take advantage of new and innovative opportunities to reach your goals. Also take into account that the level of commitment of your partner organisations will differ, and although it is perfectly normal, you should hold tight to the organisations that are in it for the long haul. To do so you can see them as a steering committee for your coalition and regularly require their inputs. 
  5. Once you have gathered all members of your coalition, you can host an event to bring all of them together and connect with one another, collaboratively discuss your goals, and show them the actions you had in mind. Adding value to your event can help attract participants. For example, you could invite a guest speaker, provide training, or build the event around a known human rights celebration. 
  6. As you will move forward with your coalition, keep in mind to follow up with your members. Regularly thanking them for their input and recognising their efforts will keep everyone motivated and encourage initiatives. You can achieve that by using email newsletters, posts on social media or SMS channels and face-to-face meetings. 

Bring media attention to your case

Another complementary strategy for your case may be to gain visibility and attention by getting media coverage. Before deciding if you want to use this strategy, you should ask yourself whether you want your case to be publicly known and talked about or if you would rather go about, it quietly. Gaining media coverage can play a pivotal role in presenting your case, promoting it in public debate and positively shaping public opinion in your favour. 

To attract media coverage, your story should be prepared in such a way as to catch the attention of readers. You can do this by highlighting why your organisation exists, how important your work is to society and by providing details about the abuse that you have suffered. If you can, try to link your story to an issue that is currently talked about in the public space as this will be more likely to interest the media. Finally, if you can show how your story affects other people and has an impact on wider society, this will increase the interest of newspapers. 

Once your story is ready, you can use social media to promote it by publishing blog posts, Instagram stories, Facebook posts and/or tweets. This will enable you to gain public attention and establish your cause before getting traditional media interested in what you have to say. 

If you want the attention of mainstream media, you can collaborate with other national and international organisations to contact reporters. You can reach journalists by email, through their social networks (such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter) or through partner organisations. You will have a better chance of getting your interview request accepted if you choose journalists who are used to covering the same kind of story as yours. 

! Be aware that journalists can receive a lot of requests so keep your emails short and to the point! 

If you don't get a response to your first contact request, you can follow up by tweeting the reporter or trying to contact them by phone. Don't get discouraged as getting media attention can be a long process during which you may end up sending your story to twenty journalists before one responds. 

When a journalist becomes interested in your story, they will most likely want to talk to you in person. To make sure you are well prepared for the interview, keep in mind three key points you want to make and practice answering questions with a colleague. 

Once the interview is over, do not forget to thank the journalist for his or her time. Following the publication of the article, you can forward it to regional or national newspapers thereby gaining exposure and/or circulate it among your partner organisations.

Bring attention to your case to other businesses and industry groups

Although business-related human rights abuses find corporate actors at the heart of the human rights abuses, you should not forget that businesses and industry groups do not all have the same policies, attitudes, and views when it comes to the respect for human rights and the environment. 

You might want to look for allies in the private sector by reaching out to business representatives and industry groups and explain the issues you are facing. Private actors might become valuable allies who can provide you with support in a variety of ways including by testifying on your behalf, paying for bail and fines, or speaking up on your behalf.

Bring attention to your case at the international level

Equally important is to make your case known at international level. 

National and international non-governmental organisations are allies in your strategic campaign and have a fundamental role to play in channelling information to relevant institutions abroad. One of their main tasks is to submit the so-called shadow reports to international bodies or during the Universal Periodic Review Process. Those reports analyse how and if the government is realising human rights at the national level and provide the necessary background information to international organisations. In turn, if the shadow reports reveal information on serious and systematic violations of the rights protected by the conventions in the country concerned, international institutions can initiate inquiries or visits to the territory of a State Party. By making your case known to NGOs and INGOs, it can be included in their shadow report. Although this will not give you a tangible remedy, you will have added your brick to the wall of human rights in your country. 

You can also bring international attention to your case through the various organisations worldwide that work to protect human rights defenders - including Frontline DefendersProtect Defenders and Peace Brigades International. You can register your case with one of them, and they will identify the best ways to support you internationally. Be aware that they may publish something on their website or link you with other victims or experts worldwide. If your case is widely known, the offenders might hesitate to retaliate against you in the future. There are also many organisations that work on business and human rights issues that can share legal resources with you, both domestically and internationally. Most importantly, both kinds of organisations can direct you on where to find funding and donors to continue your legal case and to propose other resources necessary for your work as a human rights defender.

Bring attention to your case in political spheres

You can also contact political figures to draw attention to your case. For example, you can ask a foreign diplomat - by contacting the foreign ministry of the country in question or the embassy - to listen to your story, to come to your trial or simply to have a photo taken with you. This will show your abuser that your case is being taken seriously at the international level and may make them think carefully about retaliatory actions in the future. 

If you are uncomfortable with contacting diplomats of foreign countries, you can contact international civil servants instead. International civil servants are not linked to a specific country but rather to an organisation. To contact them, you can look up the offices of OHCHR, UNDP or the ILO in your country. These organisations often organise informal events such as consultations and webinars during which you can have the opportunity to raise your concerns and build a support network.