SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: May 16, 2023

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances

Institution(s):Various Institutions

Region & Country:Southern Asia | Sri Lanka

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 16, 2023, Sri Lankan police fired water cannons at medical students marching in Colombo city.

After the students blocked the road, Sri Lankan police fired the water cannons to disperse them. The medical students were protesting the government’s cooperation with private institutions to offer medical degrees. They accused the government of “selling” the degrees and destroying free education and healthcare.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the use of water cannons to disperse students peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly—conduct that is expressly protected by 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. State authorities have an obligation to not restrict the nonviolent exercise of such rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, the use of force to restrict or deter nonviolent student expression undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)