Speaking at the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa claimed a willingness to work with "all domestic stakeholders" but maintained that domestic institutions were "essential to achieve lasting peace".
"Fostering greater accountability, restorative justice, and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace" Gotabaya stated.
The statement folllows remarks made by the country's foreign secretary, G.L. Peiris, in which he rejected external bodies as "unacceptable" and opposed the evidence-collecting mechanism established in the latest UN resolution.
“This is an ongoing process, and the country requires sufficient space for the local institutions to deliver on their mandates. The work done by these institutions cannot be replaced or taken over by external bodies,” Peiris claimed.
The statement by Sri Lankan officials follows daming reports by human rights organisations and the UN High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, which have condemned the deterioration of human rights in Sri Lanka.
In her address to the UN Human Rights Council session, Bachelet spoke on the corrosive impact of continued militarisation in Sri Lanka and highlighted that "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."
People for Equality and Relief in Lanka have highlighted the eroding confidence of Tamils in Sri Lanka's judical processes given the efforts of the ethnocratic state “to protect war criminals, which has not only entrenched impunity for mass atroctities but even encouraged perpetrators”. They maintain that to “expected accountabiltiy from any state-led mechanism such as the Office of Missing Persons is futile”.
Address core issues
In his statement,Sri Lanka's President further claimed that the government was acting to ensure that "such violence never takes place in Sri Lanka again" and in doing so his administration was "addressing the core issues behind it".
This comes as he also claimed a willingness to engage with "domestic stakeholders, and to obtain the support of our international partners and the United Nations, in this process".
This sincerity of his claim has been called into question given his adminsitration's widereaching probition on Tamil and Muslim organisations and hundred of individuals. In June, Bachelet raised alarm over the continued targetting and harassment of Tamils and Muslims by Sri Lanka's security forces. Last week Peiris, further attacked ethnic parties claiming that they were dividing the country.
In his address, Rajapaksa further claimed a successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic and praised the armed forces and police personnel involved in the response.
This is despite Human Right Watch's report slamming the ongoing police abuses committed under the guise of responding to the pandemic. These abuses include arbitrary arrests, police brutality, systemic torture, and extrajudicial killings.
The militarised response to the pandemic, which has seen the notorious army commander Shavendra Silva oversee the country's response, has been critcised by a number of human rights organisations.Boram Jang, Legal Advisor at the International Commission of Jurists Asia & the Pacific Programme, slammed the country's response stating;
"Having the military to oversee the public health policy and to act as the State’s first responders also normalises military occupation, exacerbates the existing ethnic divides, and further deteriorates human rights in Sri Lanka".
Rajapaksa also briefly commented on the threat of climate change noting deep concern over the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In recent years, the Tamil homeland has been the worst impacted by droughts and flooding. The impact on livelihoods has been further hampered by the increasing military encroachment across the North-East.
In Mullaitivu, farmers face severe hardship as their cattle have starved during the off-seasons due to a lack of grazing land. These farmers have consistently protested against the army’s takeover of their lands and have been beaten and abused.
Rajapaksa concluded his speech maintaining that the UN must treat all soverign states equally and have due "respect for their institutions and their heritage".
It comes as Tamil families of the disappeared have called on the interntional community to refer Sri Lanka to the international criminal court and have rejected the government's Office of Missing Persons.
Read Rajapaksa's full remarks here.