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Core Group on Sri Lanka says recent legislation developments ‘give cause for concern’

Speaking at the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the Core Group on Sri Lanka said that the recent legislative developments on human rights, reconciliation, and civic space “give cause for concern”.

The Core Group, made up of Canada, Malawi, Montenegro, North Macedonia, the United Kingdom and the United States, said that the recently announced Online Safety Act “has the potential to severely restrict online communication and could potentially criminalise nearly all forms of expression, creating an environment that has a chilling effect on freedom of expression.” The group called on Sri Lanka to bring the legislation in line with its human rights obligations and commitments.

In their statement, the Core Group renewed calls for the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to be repealed and for Sri Lanka to maintain a moratorium on its use. The PTA has been used for decades to detain predominantly Tamils and Muslims for prolonged periods of time, without charge and often times in contravention of due process guarantees recognised by international law. Despite widespread condemnation from the international community and civil society, Sri Lanka has failed to repeal the legislation.

Earlier this year, Sri Lanka published a bill on the Commission for Truth, Unity and Reconciliation which has reportedly been set up to investigate atrocities that occurred during the armed conflict. However, Tamil victim survivors and the families of the disappeared have expressed their lack of confidence in domestic mechanisms as previous commissions have failed to provide meaningful accountability. 

Tamil families of the disappeared marked seven years of continuous protest last month as they continue to campaign for justice and accountability. Despite their longstanding protest, the Sri Lankan government have failed to address their demands.

In their statement, the Core Group highlighted “the importance of an inclusive participatory process to build trust in advance of any legislation.”

“Any future commission must be independent, inclusive, meaningful, and transparent, meet the expectations of affected communities, build upon previous transitional justice processes, and provide pathways for accountability,” they added.

The Core Group also urged Sri Lanka to engage with the UN High Commissioner's office and address Resolution 51/1 which was passed in October 2022. 

Last week, UN High Commissioner Volker Türk told the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that it is only through addressing the “root causes” of the conflict and ensuring accountability for rights abuses, that Sri Lanka will see “genuine reconciliation and sustainable peace and development”.

In his oral update to the Council, Türk called on member states to "use of universal and extra-territorial jurisdiction and targeted measures against credibly-alleged perpetrators of serious human rights violations and abuses."

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