In light of today’s release of a United Nations report, which calls for accountability and deeper institutional reforms. This is to prevent a recurrence of past violations. The new government of Sri Lanka is urged to launch a national dialogue to advance human rights and reconciliation.
The report acknowledges that Sri Lanka is at a critical juncture in its political life. It is in the midst of a serious economic crisis which has severely impacted the human rights of all communities and people of all walks of life. This has spurred broad-based demands by Sri Lankans from all communities for deeper reforms and accountability. This has given the government a fresh opportunity to steer the country on a new path.
For sustainable improvements to take place, however, it is vital to recognise and address the underlying factors which have contributed to the economic crisis, including embedded impunity for past and present human rights violations, economic crimes and endemic corruption.
To “address the current challenges and to avoid repetition of the human rights violations of the past,” fundamental changes are needed, according to the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The report calls on the government to immediately end its reliance on draconian security laws and crackdowns on peaceful protest. It urges a reverse of the drift towards militarisation. Report calls to show renewed commitment to, and deliver on, security sector reform and ending impunity.
The security forces recently showed considerable restraint in response to mass protests. The government has since taken a harder line approach, arresting some student leaders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The government violently suppresses peaceful protests. Furthermore, the north and east of the country still maintain a highly militarised atmosphere. A culture of surveillance is needed.
The report urges the new Government to re-launch a comprehensive and victim-centred strategy on transitional justice and accountability, with a time-bound plan to implement outstanding commitments, including taking steps in relation to the establishment of a credible truth-seeking mechanism and an ad hoc special court. Victims must be given a central role in the design and implementation of all accountability and transitional justice mechanisms.
A follow-up independent and transparent investigation, with international assistance and the full participation of victims and their representatives, is called for in the report, which expresses concern over the lack of progress in establishing the truth about the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019.
“The Sri Lankan State, including through successive governments, has consistently failed to pursue an effective transitional justice process to hold perpetrators of gross human rights violations and abuses accountable and uphold victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations,” the report states.
“Rather, they have created political obstacles to accountability, and actively promoted and incorporated some military officials credibly implicated in alleged war crimes into the highest levels of government.”
In the absence of progress towards accountability at the national level, the report urges other States to cooperate in accountability efforts, including by using available avenues of extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction, to investigate and prosecute crimes under international law committed in Sri Lanka.
Additionally, the report urges States to explore further measures targeting those who are credibly alleged to have been responsible for gross violations and abuses of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law.
The report details the OHCHR’s progress on accountability work in light of Council resolution 46/1 and requests that the organization’s capacity be increased.