Sri Lanka pledges cooperation with UN on ethnic reconciliation but rejects foreign mechanisms

By P.K.Balachandran

Colombo, September 14: The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris told the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Tuesday that Sri Lanka will ensure “strong and continued cooperation” with the UNHRC and United Nations-mandated human rights system, in keeping its Constitution and its international obligations voluntarily undertaken.”

But he made it clear that Sri Lanka rejects foreign reconciliation mechanisms and international monitoring as demanded and envisaged by the UNHRC.

Addressing the 48 th. Regular Session of the UNHRC on September 14, Peiris said: “ We reject the proposal for any external initiatives purportedly established by Resolution 46/1 while domestic processes are vigorously addressing the relevant matters. This will polarize our society, as we experienced with Resolution 30/1.”

“The Council must adhere to its founding principles. External initiatives embarked upon without the cooperation of the country concerned cannot achieve their stated goals, and will be subject to politicization. The resources expended on this initiative are unwarranted, especially when they are urgently needed for humanitarian and other constructive purposes in many parts of the world.’

“Under the current and pressing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, we consider it a basic duty of a government to ensure the uninterrupted supply of commodities essential to the life of the community. We are open in acknowledging our challenges and as a responsible and democratic government, we are committed to achieving tangible progress on the entire range of issues relating to accountability, reconciliation, human rights, peace and sustainable development.”

“Twelve years ago, Sri Lanka eradicated LTTE terrorism on its soil. We have restored peace, security and stability for the benefit of our people. We held firm to our democratic traditions and elections were held at regular intervals with high levels of voter participation – most recently at the 2019 Presidential and 2020 Parliamentary polls. The Government is committed to holding the Provincial Council elections at the earliest.”

“We are dealing with post-conflict recovery from the perspective of healing. Most recently, 16 LTTE cadres convicted of serious terrorist crimes were granted Presidential pardons. The success of post conflict demining, reconstruction and resettlement programs has contributed immensely to national reconciliation.”’

He then highlighted the progress made in the domestic processes “despite the daily challenges of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) as its core function, is finalizing the list of missing persons in collaboration with other agencies. The Office for Reparations (OR) has processed 3775 claims this year.          The Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) continues its 8-point action plan. The National Human Rights Commission is carrying on its mandate. A steering committee on SDG 16 is working towards enhancing peace, justice and strong institutions.

A Cabinet Sub Committee was appointed to revisit the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and to bring it in line with international norms and best practices. A report will be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers at the end of this month.

An Advisory Board was appointed to look into cases of detention under the PTA and to make recommendations to deal with such cases expeditiously. Speedy disposal of cases under the PTA is also taking place.

A Commission of Inquiry (COI) headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court was established to address issues on accountability and missing persons and to revisit recommendations by previous Commissions. The COI submitted its Interim report to the President. The final report will be submitted within the next 06 months.

“We are maintaining vigorous engagement with civil society to obtain their insights and to harness their support in achieving reconciliation and development,” Prof. Peiris said.

Easter Sunday Bombings

He then went on to say: “Sri Lanka continues to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of the appalling terrorist attack on Easter Sunday in 2019 complying with due process of law in all respects. As always, we will remain vigilant in combatting terrorism and protecting Sri Lankans of all religions.

Michelle Bachelet’s Stinging  Report

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told the 48 th. Regular Session of the UNHRC in Geneva on Monday that she is looking forward to seeing “concrete actions” from Sri Lanka on human rights issues, in line with the recommendations that have been made in UNHRC reports and by various human rights mechanisms.

Making her statement on the opening day of the session, Bachelet said that her “office stands ready to engage,” with Sri Lanka.

Corrosive Militarization

“The current social, economic and governance challenges faced by Sri Lanka indicate the corrosive impact that militarization and the lack of accountability continue to have on fundamental rights, civic space, democratic institutions, social cohesion and sustainable development,” Bachelet said.

“A new state of emergency was declared in Sri Lanka on 30 August, with the stated aim of ensuring food security and price controls, amid deepening recession. The emergency regulations are very broad and may further expand the role of the military in civilian functions. The Office will be closely monitoring their application.”

“I note with interest the President’s recent meeting with some civil society leaders, and I encourage broader dialogue and steps to open Sri Lanka’s civic space.  Regrettably, surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared has not only continued, but has broadened to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies. Several peaceful protests and commemorations have been met with excessive use of force and the arrest or detention of demonstrators in quarantine centers,” she noted.

“New regulations on civil society groups are being drafted, and it is widely feared that they will further tighten restrictions on fundamental freedoms. I urge that the draft be made public to allow the broadest possible discussion.”

“I am concerned by developments in judicial proceedings in a number of emblematic human rights cases.  They include the Attorney General’s decision not to proceed with charges against former Navy commander Wasantha Karannagoda in the case of the enforced disappearances of 11 men in 2008 and 2009.”

On Easter Sunday Bombings  

“Despite various inquiries, the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019 and religious leaders continue to call urgently for truth and justice, and a full account of the circumstances that permitted those attacks,” Bachelet said.

“The President’s recent pardon of a former member of parliament, Duminda Silva, who was convicted for killing a politician in 2011, also risks eroding confidence in the rule of law and judicial process.”

“I am deeply concerned about further deaths in police custody, and in the context of police encounters with alleged drug criminal gangs, as well as continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.”

On De-Radicalization Regulations

“In March, new “de-radicalization” regulations were issued that permit arbitrary administrative detention of individuals for up to two years without trial.  I note that the Supreme Court has issued an interim stay order on their enforcement while it considers fundamental rights petitions to challenge the decree. The Government has also prescribed or listed over 300 Tamil and Muslim groups and individuals for alleged links to terrorist groups.”

“In June, 16 prisoners who had been convicted under the problematic Prevention of Terrorism Act, and who were nearing the end of their sentences, were pardoned. An Advisory Board has been established to which detainees under the Act can apply for their cases to be reviewed, and I urge a speedy resolution to these long-standing cases.”

Call for Moratorium on PTA

“The Government has reaffirmed its intention to revisit the Act and established a Cabinet sub-committee for this purpose. However, I am deeply concerned about the continued use of the Act to arrest and detain people.  Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah has now been detained for 16 months under the Act without credible evidence presented before a court. Likewise, Ahnaf Jazeem, a teacher and poet, has been detained without charge since May 2020. “

“I urge an immediate moratorium on the use of the Act, and that a clear timeline be set for its comprehensive review or repeal.”

Reparations

“A National Policy for Reparations was approved in August, and reparation payments and reconciliation programs have continued. The Office of Missing Persons has also continued to operate – with a sixth regional office opened in Kilinochchi – but it needs to inspire confidence among victims.  I stress again the importance of transparent, victim-centered and gender sensitive approaches, and that reparations programs must be accompanied by broader truth and justice measures.”

International Monitoring Plan

On international monitoring plans, Bachelet said: “I note also that last month, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions decided to initiate a special review of the national Human Rights Commission to determine its compliance with the Paris Principles, indicating its concerns about the appointment process of the Commission and its effectiveness in discharging its human rights mandate.”

“Against this backdrop, my Office’s work to implement the accountability-related aspects of Resolution 46/1 has begun, pending recruitment of a start-up team.  We have developed an information and evidence repository with nearly 120,000 individual items already held by the UN, and we will initiate as much information-gathering as possible this year. I urge Member States to ensure the budget process provides the necessary support so that my Office can fully implement this work.”

“I encourage Council members to continue paying close attention to developments in Sri Lanka, and to seek credible progress in advancing reconciliation, accountability and human rights,” Bachelet said.

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