By Easwaran Rutnam
Sri Lanka came under fire as the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC)in Geneva began its 37th session last week,with the United Kingdom and Canada among the countries to fire the first salvo.
Canada came out strongly,demanding that Sri Lanka fulfill its international commitments by ensuring the involvement of Commonwealth and international investigators, prosecutors and judges in the accountability process.
In a statement to the UNHRC,Canada said it fully supports efforts to bring dignity and justice to all those affected by Human Rights violations and abuses.
“The end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war was an important moment, but it was only a first step. Frustrations persist amongst those seeking to heal the wounds of all those who suffered and wish to achieve real reconciliation,” Canada said.
The Canadian delegation in Geneva said that Canada was disappointed by the slow progress in implementing commitments to advance peace and reconciliation, political stability, Human Rights and Government accountability.
Canada reiterated the desire for the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that a process of accountability is established that will have the trust and confidence of the victims of this war.
“To this end, Sri Lanka should fulfill its international commitments by ensuring the involvement of Commonwealth and international investigators, prosecutors and judges.We continue to call on the Government of Sri Lanka to set a clear timetable and strategy for implementation to ensure that the commitments made to its people are fulfilled, and that human rights for the people of Sri Lanka are protected and respected,” Canada said.
Meanwhile the UK told the UNHRC it welcomedSri Lanka’s constructive engagement with the UN.
However the UK urgedSri Lanka to make more progress in implementing their Council commitments.
Amnesty International noted in a written statement to the UNHRC that Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 on ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and HumanRights in Sri Lanka’, adopted on 1st October 2015, sets out concrete commitments to ensuring truth,justice, reparation and non-recurrence for human rights violations and abuses which took place in Sri Lanka.
Amnesty International provided an assessment of SriLanka’s progress in delivering on its human rights obligations and implementing resolution 30/1,including through commitments made at its UPR in November 2017.
In its assessment, Amnesty noted that Sri Lanka has taken a number of important steps since the adoption of Resolution 30/1, includingthe ratification in June 2016 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons fromEnforced Disappearance, the establishment of a Consultative Task Force on reconciliation (CTF) andresultant public consultations and the release of its report, and the passage of the amended Officeon Missing Persons Act in June 2017.
However, two and a half years after the adoption of resolution 30/1, Amnesty International isdisappointed by the lack of further progress, and in some cases backsliding, on the importantcommitments made in resolution 30/1 with regard to enforced disappearances; truth, justice andreparation; protection of religious and ethnic minorities and human rights defenders; and the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
Amnesty International welcomed Sri Lanka’s reaffirmation of some of the commitments set out in resolution 30/1 during its UPR, including to operationalize the office on missing persons;toestablish a truth commission, an office for reparations and a judicial mechanism with special counsel;to review the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA),in accordance with international law; andto legally recognize the crime of enforced disappearance.
“We are deeply concerned, however, that Sri Lanka has failed to publish a timeline for theimplementation of resolution 30/1, and in fact rejected six UPR recommendations calling on it to do so.The establishment of a time-bound action plan is vital for victims, survivors and their families in their quest for truth, justice and accountability, and its continued absence sends a very discouragingmessage to victims and survivors, and the international community, about Sri Lanka’s commitmentto the full implementation of resolution 30/1,” Amnesty International said.
In resolution 30/1, Sri Lanka committed to establish “a judicial mechanism with a special counselto investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of internationalhumanitarian law”. During the UPR, Sri Lanka recommitted to establish such a mechanism, with a special counsel.
However, Amnesty International noted that no progress appears to have been made with regard to its establishment.
Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights ZeidRa’ad Al Hussein called on the UN Human Rights Council to explore other avenues that could foster accountability in Sri Lanka.
In his report on Sri Lanka to the 37th session of the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner reiterates his appreciation for the constructive engagement of the Government of Sri Lanka with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and United Nations human rights mechanisms since January 2015.
However, ZeidRa’ad Al Hussein said that as he noted in March 2017, this constructive collaboration must be accompanied by the implementation of key commitments.
He says the fulfillment of the transitional justice commitments made under Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 has been virtually stalled for more than a year.
Progress with some confidence-building measures has often been insufficient and inconclusive, and the structures set up to coordinate implementation have not consolidated enough or did not receive sufficient political support to move things forward.
In statements and reports issued since 2015, the High Commissioner, while expressing concern over the lack of progress on accountability and reforms, was encouraged by the positive improvement of the general human rights situation.
However, he says 2017 was marked by intermittent inter-ethnic tensions and attacks on minorities which are unlikely to dissipate completely.
“While the Government has managed to steer many of these worrying events in a positive direction, this type of violence in a country that has experienced cycles of extreme violence roughly every 10 years is deeply troubling, particularly when accompanied by hate speech, misinformation and agitation through social media and political manipulation,” he said.
The High Commissioner said that continuing allegations of torture and surveillance and the lack of sufficient progress in implementing critical confidence building measures, such as the release of land, the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the solution to the pending cases under the Act, have antagonized key constituencies that could be instrumental to the Government’s reform efforts, the High Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka said.
The High Commissioner urged the Human Rights Council to continue to play a critical role in encouraging progress in accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
He also called on Member States to explore other avenues, including the application of universal jurisdiction, which could foster accountability.
The High Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka will be formally presented to the UNHRCon March 21.
The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka last March giving the country two more years to show progress on addressing post-war issues.
The March 2017 resolution provides a two-year extended timeline for the Government of Sri Lanka to tackle its commitments on post-war reconciliation and allegations of war crimes laid out in the 2015 UNHRC resolution.
The draft resolution calls for a written report from the High Commissioner at the 37thSession of the council in March 2018.
Accordingly the report from the High Commissioner will be submitted on March 21stat the 37thSession of the council in March 2018.
In June last year cabinet approved a proposal to establish a committee headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to look at implementing the recommendations on Sri Lanka by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Cabinet had approved a proposal made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to appoint a committee of Ministers chaired by him and a committee of Officials to assist the main committee in this regard.
The Government noted at that time that Sri Lanka has gained two more years to implement the recommendations agreed in 2015, at the session held in March 2017.
As a result it was decided to appoint a committee to look at the technical assistance Sri Lanka can obtain from UNHRC member countries when addressing the human rights issue and other steps which need to be taken to implement the recommendations in the Resolution on Sri Lanka which was adopted by the UNHRC in March.
This committee however has not been heard of since.
Very recently the Prime Minister said that the UNHRC will be looking at the progress achieved in Sri Lanka so far at its 37thSession and not the political situation in the country at present.
“Geneva is on the performance up to date so you will have to judge on what has been done so far,” he said.
The Prime Minister said that the session on Sri Lanka when the UNHRC meets for the 37thSession will be a review on Sri Lanka on what has been done so far.
He seemed to be confident that Sri Lanka will not be pulled up and that the Council will be satisfied with what has been done so far.
A delegation from Sri Lanka will brief the Council during the 37thSession.