Int’l groups press for strong UN resolution on Sri Lanka

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Four international human rights organisations, including the Human Rights Watch, pushing for a strong UN Resolution, said the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) should adopt a strong resolution on Sri Lanka that strengthens current UN mandates on accountability for crimes under international law and monitors the country’s deteriorating human rights situation.

The Rights organisations said, in a letter to Council members, that the resolution should also call upon Sri Lanka to address ongoing abuses, including ending use of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act.

They also noted that on 8 September 2022, President Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed three people implicated in human rights abuses as Government ministers. Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, known as Pillaiyan, is a former member of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) unit, who later joined a pro-Government armed group, both of which committed abductions and recruitment of child soldiers. In 2001, the Attorney General dropped charges against him in connection with the 2005 murder of a parliamentarian. Another newly appointed minister, Lohan Ratwatte, resigned as Prisons Minister in September 2021 after threatening prisoners at gunpoint. A third, Sanath Nishantha, is currently under Police investigation in connection with a violent attack on anti-Government protesters on 9 May.

Sri Lanka has been suffering a severe economic, political, and human rights crisis. The former President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, resigned in July 2022 following massive protests, and his successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has used abusive security measures to suppress freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

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

“These ministerial appointments show that the Wickremesinghe administration cannot be expected to credibly pursue accountability for human rights violations or uphold the rule of law,” said Ahmed Adam, UN advocacy programme manager at FORUM-ASIA. “The alarming situation in the country today calls for robust and clear-eyed resolution from the Human Rights Council to protect the rights of people in Sri Lanka.”

At the 51st session of the Human Rights Council, which began on 12 September, member States will review and update a March 2021 resolution that established a UN accountability project to collect and prepare evidence of international crimes committed in Sri Lanka for use in future prosecutions, and mandated the UN to monitor and report on the current situation in the country. It is essential to renew and strengthen those mandates, including with additional resources, Amnesty International, said

“Time and again we have seen successive Sri Lankan Governments make commitments to the Human Rights Council that are then broken or disavowed,” said Yamini Mishra, South Asia director at Amnesty International. “Member States should press Sri Lanka on its commitments and call for action now to end the abuses that are taking place, while renewing and enhancing the UN’s mandates to monitor the situation and pursue accountability for past abuses.”

“The High Commissioner has presented clear findings that require urgent international action to end impunity and provide for justice to Sri Lankans,” said Massimo Frigo, UN representative and senior legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists. “A decade of Human Rights Council engagement on Sri Lanka has been a source of hope for victims and resulted in sporadic and unfulfilled pledges to reform, the council needs to give the issue sustained attention.”

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan