UN rights council slams worsening Sri Lanka situation

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The Geneva-based body approved a resolution expressing “serious concern” at the situation. — Reuters pic
Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - The Geneva-based body approved a resolution expressing “serious concern” at the situation. — Reuters pic

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GENEVA, March 23 — The UN Human Rights Council today criticised the erosion of judicial independence, marginalisation of minorities and impunity in Sri Lanka, and urged the UN to ramp up evidence-gathering.

The Geneva-based body approved a resolution expressing “serious concern” at the situation.

With 22 countries voting in favour of the text, 11 opposed and 14 abstaining, the 47-member council pointed to “trends emerging over the past year, which represent a clear early warning sign of a deteriorating situation of human rights in Sri Lanka”.

At the start of the current council session last month, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena slammed the resolution as politically motivated—a sentiment reiterated on Tuesday by the country’s ambassador.

The text, drafted by Britain, Germany, Canada and several other countries, spotlighted Sri Lanka’s ongoing failure to ensure accountability for atrocities committed during its civil war that ended in 2009.

It also highlighted “accelerating militarisation of civilian government functions”, “the erosion of the independence of the judiciary”, and “increased marginalisation” of Tamil and Muslim minorities.

The resolution expressed particular concern that the island’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic had “exacerbated the prevailing marginalisation of and discrimination against the Muslim community”.

And it called on Sri Lanka’s government to review its Prevention of Terrorism Act, which rights groups have warned is being used as a weapon targeting dissidents and minorities in the fractured country.

Last week, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced new rules under the act aimed at the “de-radicalisation” of religious extremists that allow the detention of anyone suspected of causing “acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony”.

‘Grave violations’ 

Today’s resolution also criticised “ongoing impunity and political obstruction of accountability” for past crimes, referring to the thousands of civilians killed in the final stages of the 37-year separatist war that ended a decade ago.

It cautioned that the trends “threaten to reverse the limited but important gains made in recent years, and risk the recurrence of policies and practices that gave rise to the grave violations of the past.”

The resolution called on the office of UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to enhance its monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, including on progress in reconciliation and accountability, and to present oral and written reports to the council on the findings.

In a report earlier this year, Bachelet had already warned that Rajapaksa’s government had reversed advances made under previous administrations, putting the country on an “alarming path towards recurrence of grave rights violations”.

Rajapaksa won a 2019 presidential election on a nationalist agenda which included a promise that troops who crushed Tamil rebels would not be prosecuted.

He was the top defence official when government forces defeated the guerrillas in a military campaign that ended in May 2009. His brother Mahinda was president then, and is currently the country’s prime minister.

At least 100,000 people were killed in the war and allegations were made that 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final onslaught. 

Today’s resolution said there had been a “persistent lack of accountability” in the country itself, and slammed a domestic commission of inquiry announced in January for lacking independence and the scope to pursue justice for gross violations. — AFP

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