(Photo of Deputy High Commissioner of the UNHCR Nada Al-Nashif)
Responding to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet’s, damning report on Sri Lanka, members of the Core Group (UK, Canada, Germany, Montenegro, and North Macedonia) expressed alarm over the deteriorating human rights conditions in Sri Lanka whilst Sri Lanka allies accuse the UNHRC of political bias.
Alongside the Core Group, the EU, Australia, and Switzerland alongside a number of other countries voiced concern over the worsening human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Russia, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, and China, among others, alleged faith in Sri Lanka’s domestic mechanisms and accused the UN report baseless allegations.
This follows the release of a draft resolution which calls for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights “to consolidate, analyse and preserve” evidence that could be used in future war crimes trials, as it noted the lack of accountability for mass atrocities through domestic mechanisms and called for enhanced “monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka”. Human rights activists and Tamil civil society has criticised the report as being “fundamentally weak and extremely disappointing” as it failed to adopt actions the UN High Commissioner had called for. This includes sanctions on senior Sri Lankan officials implicated in war crimes, the pursuit of prosecutions through universal jurisdiction, and considering referring Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court.
Core Group Statements
Britain's Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth, H.E. Lord Ahmad expressed the UK's shared concern over reversed progress and highlighted the risk and recurrence of past violations. His statement also highlighted increasing surveillance; the militarisation of the civilian government; and the impact of the government’s forced cremation policy. He further criticised Sri Lanka’s inability to further accountability noting 'previous domestic commission have all failed'.
Speaking on behalf of Canada, Mr Robert Oliphant noted Canada’s regret that Sri Lanka had withdrawn support from the co-sponsored UN resolution, highlighting that “domestic processes for reconciliation and accountability have repeatedly failed to deliver results”.
He further praised survivors who have continued their relent pursuit for justice noting:
“The survivors have been persistent in their efforts to seek the truth. They have taken extraordinary risks to offer evidence. We recognise their resilience and their courage”.
Oliphant also warned that inaction would lead to further violations stating:
“We share in the high commissioner's concerns regarding the deterioration of human rights which regrettably may lead to a recurrence of violence and conflict […] If left unaddressed civilian government and independent judiciary, civil society space, respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, are all being undermined”.
His statement also raised concerns over “forced cremation of Muslims and restrictions on Tamil memorials [which] will further fuel divisions on the Island”.
He concluded noting
'Canada believes the council has a responsibility to keep Sri Lanka on its agenda, and to continue its efforts to promote reconciliation accountability and human rights'.
Mr Hans-Peter Jugel, speaking on behalf of Germany, expressed alarm over the centralisation of power within the presidency in Sri Lanka, noting:
“We are concerned about the implications of the recent constitutional amendment for the independence and effective functioning of the National Human Rights Commission, the Office of missing persons, and the Office for Reparations”.
He also raised concerns over civil society in Sri Lanka stating:
We are “concerned about shrinking civic space, and that those who pursued accountability in recent years, fear of reprisals now. Germany is convinced that a comprehensive dealing of the past is necessary for inclusive and sustainable reconciliation”
“The crimes of the past cannot remain unpunished”, he maintained.
Jugel also noted that Germany had also accountability for human rights abuses through the principle of universal jurisdiction.
Montenegro’s representative, Ms Slavica Milačić, called on Sri Lanka to harmful legacies of war as well as support democratic and independent institutions however placed faith in the government “to set and internally conduct process to advance reconciliation”.
Ms Teuta Agai-Demjaha, representing North Macedonia, express alarm over the “possible recurrence of grave human rights violation” and called on the council to recognise the High Commissioner’s “early warning action and adapt to the Proposed resolution by consensus”.
US representative, Mr. Dan Kronenfeld, maintained concern over Sri Lanka stating:
“We are concerned by accounts of increasing marginalisation of minority communities, shrinking space for civil society, [...] We remain concerned about the lack of accountability, including high-level appointments of military officials credibly accused of conflict era abuses”.
He further added:
“We note that the Sri Lankans Commission of Inquiry does not include a mandate to pursue accountability and that the Office of missing persons and Office of reparations need to operate without political interference”
He concluded to maintain that:
“Respect for the human rights of all Sri Lankans is critical to Sri Lanka's long-term peace, security and prosperity and call on the Sri Lankan government to take meaningful concrete steps to promote accountability, justice and reconciliation'.
EU representative, Ms Ida Krogh Mikkelsen, expressed the EU’s regret over Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the UN resolution and called upon the government to ensure that the Office for Missing persons and Office for Reparations as independent and sufficiently resourced.
She further stated:
“We share the High Commissioner’s concern about warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation including erosion of democratic checks and balances; the rise of exclusionary rhetoric; surveillance and intimidation of CSOs and others; as well as discrimination of persons belonging to ethnic and religious minority communities”
She also expressed concern over on-going impunity and noted that domestic processes failed to deliver on this. She also commended the High Commissioner’s report which highlighted avenues to advance accountability and end impunity.
Mr Indra Mani Pandey, representing India noted that India’s “position rests on two pillars support facile and community and territorial integrity and abiding commitment to aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality justice, peace and dignity”.
He further called on Sri Lanka “to take necessary steps for addressing such as prisons, including through the process of reconciliation and full implementation of the 13th amendment to the Constitution as the assessment of the High Commissioner range of important concerns”.
Mr Tahir Andrabi, representing Pakistan, advocated for the “continuation of consultations” with Sri Lanka. This statement follows Pakistan’s Prime Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka and growing defence relationships between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
China’s representative, Mr Chen Xu attacked the High Commissioner’s report claiming:
“It is the consistent standard China to oppose politicisation double standards of human rights, as well as using human rights as a pretext for interference in other's internal affairs”.
Watch the full proceedings here.