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Sri Lanka: UN report calls for international action on accountability and human rights

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(Bangkok/Geneva, 2 February 2021) The UN Human Rights Council must act urgently to ensure accountability and address the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka, said the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), following the release of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report[1] on reconciliation, accountability and human rights in the country.

The High Commissioner’s report, mandated by the Human Rights Council, focuses on the progress made in implementing Council resolution 30/1 which elaborated measures that Sri Lanka should take to address credible allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law in the closing stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council’s resolution that outlines the government and the Council’s commitments for reconciliation, accountability and human rights in February 2020 is another clear attempt to avoid accountability for past atrocities. Several senior officials of the government including President Rajapaksa are implicated in these crimes.

‘This report is a damning indictment of the deliberate attempts by the Sri Lankan government to obstruct investigations into credible allegations of grave international crimes and systematic human rights violations committed in the country and to prevent accountability for these crimes,’ said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.

Mandated by the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution 40/1 in March 2019, this report  expresses concern over ‘negative trends’ including increased militarisation of civil administration, deepening impunity, reversal of constitutional safeguards, majoritarian and ethno-nationalist politics, surveillance and intimidation of civil society and human rights defenders, and the use of anti-terrorism laws.

These trends represent early warning signs that ‘sets the scene for the recurrence of policies and practices that gave rise to grave human rights violations. The report also states that these negative trends ‘have profoundly changed the environment for reconciliation, accountability and human rights, as well as achievement of the 2030 Agenda.’

FORUM-ASIA has long been advocating for ending impunity and ensuring accountability for grave international crimes and human rights violations in Sri Lanka, and it has seen how the civic space has been constantly shrinking under the repressive regime.

‘The Council must give serious consideration to these early warning signs. Failure to act on them risks recurrence of past atrocities, which the Council has a responsibility to prevent. The High Commissioner’s report paints a grim picture of the realities on the ground and exposes a government bent on subverting accountability and undermined justice for tens of thousands of victims of past atrocities at every step of the way,’ Shamini said.

On 21 January 2021, the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed a new Commission of Inquiry to assess findings and recommendations of past ‘Commissions or Committees appointed to investigate into human rights violations, serious violations of international humanitarian law and other such offences.’[2] The High Commissioner’s report said that the new commission’s membership lacked diversity and independence, and its mandate ‘do not inspire confidence it will produce any meaningful result.’

‘The new Commission of Inquiry is yet another deliberate tactic to shield perpetrators of these atrocities from accountability and divert international attention ahead of the deliberations on Sri Lanka at the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council this month. The Council and the international community now have a responsibility to act on the recommendations of the High Commissioner. Inaction would not only embolden perpetrators of grave crimes in Sri Lanka but send a message to the world that anyone can get away with such atrocities,’ Shamini said.

The High Commissioner is scheduled to present the report to the UN Human Rights Council on 24 February 2021.

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For a PDF version of this statement, click here