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Joint letter from human rights organisations demands urgent international action on Sri Lanka

In a joint letter from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists and Forum Asia, has stressed that the UNHRC should adopt a strong resolution on end a pervasive culture of impunity and bring justice to victim communities.

The joint statement follows a damning report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which stressed that “deepening militarization and lack of transparency and accountability in governance … have embedded impunity for serious human rights violations and created an environment for corruption and the abuse of power”.

The High Commissioner maintained that in the absence of accountability within Sri Lanka, member states should prosecute Sri Lankans accused of committing international crimes in foreign courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction and support efforts to trace and freeze stolen assets held abroad. She further called for an international investigation into the Easter Sunday bombings which killed over 250 people, highlighted the unanswered questions over the role of the Sri Lankan security forces.

Responding to the report, Massimo Frigo, UN representative and senior legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists noted;

“The high commissioner has presented clear findings that require urgent international action to end impunity and provide for justice to Sri Lankans,”. He added, “a decade of Human Rights Council engagement on Sri Lanka has been a source of hope for victims and resulted in sporadic and unfulfilled pledges to reform, the council needs to give the issue sustained attention.”

During this ongoing session of the UN Human Rights Council, member states will review and update an earlier March 2021 resolution that established the UN accountability project to collect and preserve evidence of war crimes that may be used in a future tribunal. The joint letter emphasised these human right organisations support for the project and stressed the need to strengthen its mandate as well as providing the project with additional resources.

“Member states should press Sri Lanka on its commitments and call for action now to end the abuses that are taking place, while renewing and enhancing the UN’s mandates to monitor the situation and pursue accountability for past abuses”, Yamini Mishra, South Asia director at Amnesty International states.

Throughout the session, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister has slammed the resolution asserting his confidence in a domestic mechanism however,  Human Rights Watch South Asia director, Meenakshi Ganguly, highlights that;

“For many years the victims of past abuses in Sri Lanka have demanded justice, while successive governments have broken promises, blocked accountability, and promoted those implicated in war crimes to high office,”

The joint statement also highlights the NGOs doubts over Sri Lanka’s commitment to human rights, noting the appointment of three alleged human rights abusers. “These ministerial appointments show that the Wickremesinghe administration cannot be expected to credibly pursue accountability for human rights violations or uphold the rule of law,” states Ahmed Adam, UN advocacy programme manager at FORUM-ASIA.

He adds:

“The alarming situation in the country today calls for robust and clear-eyed resolution from the Human Rights Council to protect the rights of people in Sri Lanka.”

Read more about these appointments here: Sri Lankan government appoints alleged rights abusers - Human Rights Watch

The human rights organisations conclude their statement by calling on Sri Lanka to:

  • Respect the rights of people to freely and peacefully protest and express their views without fear of reprisal or arrest;
  • End the harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrest of people believed to have participated in or supported recent protests;
  • Repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, issue an immediate moratorium on its use in the interim period, review the detention of those held under the law, immediately release all those not facing internationally recognizable charges, and ensure that everyone detained under the law, including those in pretrial detention, are tried promptly and fairly in a regular court; and
  • Restore the independence of the judiciary and Human Rights Commission.

Read the full statement here.

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