On March 19, 2019, police reportedly fired tear gas and water cannons at students during a peaceful protest in front of the University Grants Commission, in Colombo.
The Inter-University Students Federation and the Sabaragamuwa University Student Union organized the protest over alleged cuts to student enrollment at Sabaragamuwa University. The students reportedly protested in front of the gates of the University Grants Commission, which called for the enrollment cuts. Police reportedly fired tear gas and water at the students in an effort to disperse them. As of this report, it is unclear how many students may have been injured as a result of the police response.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of force during a nonviolent student protest — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a party. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain security and order, they must refrain from the use of force and other actions that interfere with or are used to retaliate against the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.