The Sri Lankan authorities and the international community must fully incorporate human rights into their responses to the country’s economic crisis, Amnesty International said in a new report, as people in the country face serious concerns around access to healthcare while being driven to the brink of starvation, widespread malnutrition, and deep poverty.
The report, “We are near total breakdown”: Protecting the rights to health, food and social security in Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, explores the catastrophic impact of the crisis on the economic and social rights for the people of Sri Lanka.
“For months now, the people of Sri Lanka have been suffering from severe shortages of food and have struggled to access healthcare, while sky-high inflation has exacerbated already existing patterns of inequality. The Sri Lankan authorities and the international community must act quickly to mitigate the widespread human rights cost of the crisis, which has cruelly stripped away people’s access to their rights” said Sanhita Ambast, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The report details the recovery measures that Sri Lanka’s leaders and the international community must put in place to safeguard human rights in their responses to the situation, such as increasing the amount of international assistance, ensuring comprehensive social protection, and considering all options for debt relief, including debt cancellation.
Between June and September 2022, Amnesty International conducted interviews with 55 people across a broad spectrum of society: people in precarious employment; daily wage workers; those working in the fisheries sector and plantations; people from the Malaiyaha Tamil community, who are likely to be particularly impacted; public health workers; staff members from civil society groups, humanitarian organizations and international NGOs and individual experts.
Life-threatening shortages of medicine and essential equipment are major concerns in Sri Lanka as the economic crisis deepens. From shortages of gauze, intravenous antibiotics and insulin to requests to re-use catheters or endotracheal tubes, the last few months have brought shocking challenges to Sri Lanka’s healthcare system.
The government of Sri Lanka and international financial institutions must also conduct human rights impact assessments before implementing economic reforms; it remains unclear as to whether these have been or will be conducted.
“The economic crisis has led to devastating consequences for the people of Sri Lanka, many of whom are unable to ensure their children have enough food or to access healthcare for sick relatives. In order to convert this near breakdown into a breakthrough, the Sri Lankan authorities must ensure that human rights are placed at the heart of their responses to the crisis, and that all people in the country can access social protection systems,” said Sanhita Ambast.