Sri Lanka: Rights Groups Demand Strong UN Resolution


(Geneva) – The UN Human Rights Council is expected to adopt a strong resolution on Sri Lanka that reinforces current UN mandates for accountability for crimes under international law and monitors the deteriorating situation rights in the country, four international human rights organizations said in a letter to the council. Member States published today. The resolution is also expected to call on Sri Lanka to address ongoing abuses, including ending the application of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Sri Lanka is suffering from a serious economic, political and human rights crisis. Former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigned in July 2022 following massive protests, and his successor Ranil Wickremesinghe used abusive security measures to suppress freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. In a wide-ranging report released on September 6, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said: “Sri Lankans have come together…in a mass protest movement to demand greater transparency, accountability for corruption and economic mismanagement, and increased participation in democracy. life.” She called on the government to respect the rights of protesters, end impunity for past violations and address the root causes of the current crisis.

“For many years, victims of past abuses in Sri Lanka have demanded justice, while successive governments have broken promises, blocked accountability and emboldened those involved in war crimes to high office,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN Human Rights Council is expected to pass a resolution on Sri Lanka that urges the government to uphold accountability and the rule of law.”

At the 51st session of the Human Rights Council, which began on September 12, member states will review and update a March 2021 resolution that established a draft accountability of the United Nations to collect and prepare evidence of international crimes committed in Sri Lanka for use in future prosecutions, and instructed the UN to monitor and report on the current situation in the country. It is essential to renew and strengthen these mandates, including with additional resources, Amnesty International, FORUM ASIA, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists said in their letter.

In her report, the UN High Commissioner described how “deepening militarization and the lack of transparency and accountability in governance…have reinforced impunity for serious human rights violations. and created an environment conducive to corruption and abuse of power”. In the absence of accountability in Sri Lanka, she said UN member states should prosecute Sri Lankans accused of committing international crimes in foreign courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction, and support efforts aimed at tracing and freezing stolen assets held abroad. The high commissioner also called for an international role in the investigations into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, which killed more than 250 people, noting that there remain unanswered questions about the role of security forces Sri Lankans.

“The High Commissioner has presented clear conclusions that require urgent international action to end impunity and bring justice to Sri Lankans,” said Massimo Frigo, UN Representative and Senior Legal Adviser to the International Commission on lawyers. “A decade of engagement by the Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka has brought hope to victims and resulted in sporadic and unfulfilled promises of reform, the council must give the issue serious attention. sustained.”

Since becoming president on July 21, President Wickremesinghe has sent in the military to violently disperse protesters and arrest dozens of people accused of taking part in demonstrations. He ordered the use of the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain three student leaders without charge. Former foreign minister GL Pieris told the Human Rights Council in June that the government would observe a moratorium on the use of the law, while current foreign minister Ali Sabry then Minister of Justice, gave the same assurances to the Sri Lankan parliament. in March.

On September 8, President Wickremesinghe appointed three people implicated in human rights violations as ministers. Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, known as Pillayan, is a former member of a separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) unit who later joined a pro-government armed group, both of which carried out kidnappings and recruited child soldiers. In 2001, the Attorney General dropped charges against him for the murder of a parliamentarian in 2005. Another newly appointed minister, Lohan Ratwatte, resigned as minister of prisons in September 2021 after threatening prisoners under the threat of a weapon. A third, Sanath Nishantha, is currently under police investigation in connection with a violent attack on anti-government protesters on May 9.

“These ministerial appointments show that the Wickremesinghe administration cannot be expected to credibly seek accountability for human rights abuses or uphold the rule of law,” said Ahmed Adam. , head of the United Nations advocacy program at FORUM-ASIA. “The alarming situation in the country today calls for a firm and clear-headed resolution by the Human Rights Council to protect the rights of people in Sri Lanka.”

In their letter to member states, the groups said the new Human Rights Council resolution should address human rights threats in Sri Lanka and violations related to the country’s current crisis. The resolution should call on the government to:

  • Respect the right of people to demonstrate freely and peacefully and to express their opinions without fear of reprisals or arrest;
  • End the harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests of people suspected of having participated in or supported the recent protests;
  • Repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, issue an immediate moratorium on its use in the meantime, review the detention of those detained under the law, immediately release all those not facing internationally recognizable charges and ensure that anyone detained under the law, including those on remand, are tried promptly and fairly by an ordinary court; and
  • Restore the independence of the judiciary and the Human Rights Commission.

“Time and time again, we have seen successive Sri Lankan governments make commitments to the Human Rights Council that are then broken or repudiated,” said Yamini Mishra, South Asia Director at Amnesty International. “Member States should pressure Sri Lanka to live up to its commitments and call for action now to end the abuses that are taking place, while renewing and strengthening UN mandates to monitor the situation. and seek accountability for past abuses.”


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