File photograph: Accused war criminal Shavendra Silva in a meeting with the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, earlier this year
International human rights group Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, has urged the UK to use its new ‘Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime’ to adopt sanctions against high-profile individuals, including accused war criminal Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva “to send a strong signal to the Government of Sri Lanka that impunity for human rights violations will not be tolerated”.
The UK government released the regime last month, intending to “provide accountability for and deter serious violations of human rights, with a particular focus on sexual violence, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, human trafficking, and violence against human rights defenders.”
Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice highlighted that “a number of high-profile individuals within Sri Lanka fit the criteria for sanctions under the regime. Enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and violence against human rights defenders have been features of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, particularly in the brutal final stages of the war.” They stressed, “if the UK is serious about countering impunity in Sri Lanka, Silva should be designated under the new sanctions regime as soon as possible.”
The regime is said to operate where ‘the relevant jurisdiction’s law enforcement authorities have been unable or unwilling to hold’ such perpetrators accountable.” The regime also stated it “not only targets those directly involved, but also those who aided and abetted in the execution of the crimes” providing there is reasonable grounds to suspect that the individual was involved in the human rights violation concerned.”
The UK government published its 2019 Human Rights and Democracy report stating “Sri Lanka remains one of the thirty UK Human Rights Priority Countries” and that “the human rights situation in Sri Lanka deteriorated during 2019, citing “increased intercommunal tensions, violence against minority groups, and intimidation of human rights defenders.”
Need for new accountability apparatuses
Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice emphasised that with the imminent parliamentary elections “international human rights organisations have warned of a rise in arrests, intimidation, and threats against human rights defenders, lawyers, activists, and journalists. While the hostile environment for human rights defenders is not new – surveillance and intimidation were persistent threats under the previous government, particularly in the North and East – the sense of threat and fear has intensified over the last six months.”
They added that “taking concrete steps towards accountability will also deter future violations and help to protect human rights defenders who are facing an increasingly hostile environment” and “the international community must look afresh at other means of advancing justice and accountability beyond Sri Lanka’s borders and step up to support human rights defenders and other at-risk individuals in Sri Lanka as a matter of priority.”
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