Global Human Rights Defence

Girl looking at the camera from behind a fence in Sri Lanka. Source: ©Tom Woods/Flickr, 2014

Author: Judit Kolbe

On January 7, 2022, the Sri Lankan Court of Appeal issued an order releasing a Muslim human rights and minority rights lawyer and advocate, Hejaaz Hizbullah, on bail after two years of detention and remand custody (Sooriyagoda, 2022; Ameen, 2022). He was arrested in April 2020 by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), a department under the Sri Lankan Police (Colombo Gazette, 2022). Initially, Hizbullah was not informed of the reason for his arrest. However, he was later charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act for speech-related offences, due to certain statements he made to students after the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks (Colombo Gazette, 2022; Sooriyagoda, 2022). While Hejaaz Hizbullah’s case gained a lot of international attention, he is only one of many members of the Muslim minority community in Sri Lanka who have been arbitrarily arrested, detained or discriminated against under the PTA (Amnesty International, 2021a). 

Sri Lanka’s Muslim Minority and the PTA 

In Sri Lanka, the marginalization of and discrimination against the Muslim minority community are evident, with an increase in State-sanctioned violence and discrimination since 2013 (Amnesty International, 2021b). What started out as lobbying for the removal of the halal food certification, anti-Muslim riots, and anti-Muslim mob violence, mainly by Sinhala Buddhist nationalist groups, escalated after the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks (Amnesty International, 2021b). The Easter Sunday attacks were a series of coordinated suicide bombings that killed over 260 people, committed by a local Islamist group, later claimed by ISIS/ISL. The attack was aimed at the Christian community in Sri Lanka (Amnesty International, 2021b). Since then, the use of the PTA by the government and law enforcement authorities as a tool to arbitrarily detain and discriminate against the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka, is well documented (Amnesty International, 2021a; HRW, 2022a). 

“While failing to prosecute the actual perpetrators [of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings], the state has singlehandedly used the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) as a cudgel to persecute the entire Muslim minority.“

– Saroor (2022).

The PTA was adopted in 1979 as a temporary legislative measure and made permanent in 1982, during Sri Lanka’s Civil War involving the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) (DeVotta, 2021). The PTA permits authorities to detain suspects of “any unlawful activity” without a prior warrant, and the detention period can be prolonged up to 18 months without specific charges being filed against the individual (Prevention of Terrorism Act 1979, Sects. 6(1) and 9(1)). There have been 109 arrests under the PTA in 2021 alone (HRW, 2022a). According to a defence lawyer for PTA cases, “during this 18-month period [the arrested individuals] are at the mercy of whichever security agency is detaining [them]” (HRW, 2022a). There have been numerous reports of torture during remands in custody and convictions based on confessions obtained under torture, as the PTA contains special rules on evidence that allow for uncorroborated confessions made to police officers to be admissible in court (HRW, 2022a; Prevention of Terrorism Act 1979, Sects. 16 and 17). 

Moreover, in March 2021, the Sri Lankan government issued an extension to the PTA, namely the Prevention of Terrorism (De-radicalization from holding violent extremist religious ideology) Regulations (PTA Regulations) (Amnesty International, 2021a). These Regulations enable law enforcement authorities to detain individuals in the so-called de-radicalization, rehabilitation, and reintegration centres for up to two years without a trial, if a person “by words either spoken or intended” commits or seeks to commit “acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups” (PTA Regulations 2021, Sect. 2). According to Amnesty International, after the Easter Sunday bombings, “as many as 1,800 Muslim individuals were arrested using the PTA” and other Emergency Regulations (Amnesty International 2021a). 

Hejaaz Hizbullah’s Case 

As mentioned in the introduction to the article, Hejaaz Hizbullah was arrested in April 2020 by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) (Colombo Gazette, 2022). He was not informed of the reason for his arrest until March 2021, when he was officially charged under the PTA and the ICCPR Act (HRW, 2022b). Specifically, he was indicted for “inciting communal disharmony” under Sect. 2(h) PTA, “advocating national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” under Sect. 3(1) ICCPR Act, and conspiracy and abetment charges under Sects. 102 and 113(a) of the Penal Code (Amnesty International, 2021a). During the period of his detention, Hizbullah was denied “regular and unrestricted access” to his lawyers and family members (Colombo Gazette, 2022; Amnesty International, 2022). 

Given that, his release on bail has been welcomed by many human rights organisations, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, as a step in the right direction. However, they remind the international community and the Sri Lankan government that many people remain in arbitrary custody under the PTA (Amnesty International, 2022; HRW, 2022b). Furthermore, in the Court order, in which Hizbullah was granted bail, the Appeal Court recognised the need for the government to review and remove certain elements of the PTA (Ameen, A., 2022).

“The Sri Lankan authorities must ensure that all those still detained under the PTA have access to fair bail hearings and release those who have not been charged with recognizable crimes under international law.“ 

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director (Amnesty International, 2022)

Proposed PTA Amendment 

On January 27, 2022, an amendment of the PTA was introduced by the Sri Lankan government in a Bill (Amendment Bill) (Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment), 2022). However, organisations like Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) were quick to declare this Amendment Bill a farce (HRW, 2022a; ICJ, 2022; Satkunanathan, 2022). 

Under the intended amendment of the PTA, Clause 2 addresses the prolonged detention period, reducing it from 18 to 12 months (Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment), 2022; ICJ, 2022). Additionally, Clause 10 entitles a detained person to seek bail after 12 months of detention (Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment), 2022; ICJ, 2022). Accordingly, a person can still be deprived of liberty for a year without the chance to be heard by a court of law (ICJ, 2022). 

According to Clauses 4, 5 and 12 of the Amendment Bill, suspects may challenge detention orders by way of fundamental rights petitions or writ applications (Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment), 2022). Nevertheless, the ICJ pointed out that this makes the “right to legal and familial access respectively […] redundant as these are constitutional safeguards to which victims are already entitled” (ICJ, 2022). However, in reality victims are often denied full and confidential access, as seen in the Hizbullah case (ICJ, 2022).

Moreover, Sect. 16 of the PTA dealing with the special rules on evidence and uncorroborated confessions, which, as explored above, has led the police to use torture in numerous cases to force confessions, is not addressed by the Amendment Bill. The vague definition of terrorism enshrined in the PTA also remains, similarly to the lack of judicial oversight of investigations and arrests of suspects (ICJ, 2022). 

On December 9, 2021, seven United Nations (UN) special procedures addressed the Sri Lankan government, with all seven mandates finding that the PTA is infringing on Sri Lanka’s obligations under international law and international human rights standards (UN OHCHR, 2021; HRW, 2022a). In their letter, they laid down five benchmarks that are “necessary prerequisites to ensure the PTA is amended to be compliant with international law obligations” (UN OHCHR, 2021). These benchmarks encompass a definition of terrorism that complies with international norms, more precise legislation that complies with the principle of legal certainty, the adoption of provisions and measures that prevent and stop arbitrary deprivation of liberty, guarantee of preventive measures against torture and enforced disappearances that “adhere to their absolute prohibition”, and lastly enable “overarching due process and fair trial guarantees” (UN OHCHR, 2021). Analysing the Amendment Bill against these benchmarks, it would not bring the PTA into compliance with Sri Lanka’s obligations under international law (HRW, 2022a; Satkunanathan, 2022).

“The fatally flawed PTA cannot be cured by these disingenuous reform attempts, but must be entirely repealed.”

– Ian Seiderman, International Commission of Jurists’s Legal and Policy Director (ICJ, 2022). 

The case of Hejaaz Hizbullah is emblematic of the human rights violations under the PTA, which is used by the government to violate particularly the Muslim minorities’ fundamental rights. It showcases the arbitrary power wielded by government and security officials under the PTA. The proposed amendments are not going to be effective enough to stop the violations of fundamental rights under the PTA. Only a repeal of the main elements or the whole piece of legislation is going to be sufficiently effective and bring it in conformity with international human rights obligations. 


Ameen, A. (2022, January 07). Appeal Court order grants bail to Hizbullah recognizes need to remove elements of PTA. The Morning. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from 

Amnesty International (2021a, March 19). Increased Marginalization, Discrimination and Targeting of Sri Lanka’s Muslim Community. Amnesty International. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from

Amnesty International (2021b, October 18). Sri Lanka: Authorities must end violence and discrimination against Muslims. Amnesty International. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from

Amnesty International (2022, February 07). Sri Lanka: Authorities must review all ‘terrorism’ cases after granting bail to Hejaaz Hizbullah. Amnesty International. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

Colombo Gazette (2022, January 07). Court of Appeal orders release of Hejaaz Hizbullah. Colombo Gazette. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from 

Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, as amended on 29th October 2020 – Revised Edition 2021. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from

DeVotta, N. (2021, June 14). ADERN Issue Briefing; Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act: AN Anti-Minority Cudgel. Asia Democracy Research Network. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from

Human Rights Watch (HRW) (2022a, February 07). ‘In a Legal Black Hole’ Sri Lanka’s Failure to Reform the Prevention of Terrorism Act. HRW. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) (2022b, February 07). Sri Lanka: Grave Abuses Under Discredited Law. HRW. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from

Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) Act No. 48 of 1979. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from

Prevention of Terrorism (De-radicalization from holding violent extremist religious ideology) Regulations No. 01 of 2021. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from

Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment), Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Part II of January 21, 2022. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

Saroor, S. (2022, February 09). The Tragic Lives of Women Victims of the PTA. Groundviews. 

Satkunanathan, A. (2022, February 06). PTA Reform: A Farce in Multiple Acts. Groundviews. Retrieved February 17, 2022, from

Sooriyagoda, L. (2022, January 07). Court of Appeal grants bail on Hejaaz Hizbullah. Daily Mirror. Retrieved February 16, 2022, from 

Unted Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (UN OHCHR) (2021, December 9). Sri Lanka JOL LKA 7/2021. UN OHCHR. Retrieved February 18, 2022, from

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Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.