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Russia and Belarus rush to Sri Lanka’s defence at UN Human Rights Council

As the United Nations Human Rights Council continued to discuss Sri Lanka today, several member states including the United States and Britain expressed “concerns regarding the continued lack of progress on accountability” for mass atrocities on the island.

Whilst many states expressed concern at the situation in Sri Lanka, Colombo did however have some familiar defenders at the global body – including Russia and Belarus. Both states are currently under international scrutiny and widespread sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia however claimed that Sri Lanka had made “considerable progress” on human rights and reconciliation, and that “infrastructure is being built in areas with many Tamil populations”.

Belarus claimed that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights “is being turned into a controlled mechanism to implement the political strategies of the West towards specific UN Member States”.

“The information prepared by OHCHR for this session on Sri Lanka and Belarus is a clear example of the implementation of this concept,” it continued.

“In this regard, we wish to stress that we do not believe a single word of OHCHR,” added Belarus, stating that it also wishes to “commend the Government of Sri Lanka for its success in post-war reconstruction and reconciliation”.

Amongst Sri Lanka’s other defenders were Syria, who made a similar defence attacking the UN Human Rights Council for “country specific” resolutions and stating the global body should not become an “investigation mechanism”.

North Korea said that it notes “with appreciation the sincere efforts made by the government of Sri Lanka for promotion and protection of human rights in the country despite many challenges”.

“The community of nations must support any initiative in good faith that contributes to preserving reconciliation and stability in the country, always acting with the help, in accordance with the decisions taken by the government of Sri Lanka, sovereign state,” it added.

China also came out in support of Sri Lanka, claiming that it “always opposes politicizing human rights issues and interfering in other countries' internal affairs under the pretext of human rights”.

Though a few states backed Sri Lanka’s human rights record, many criticized it. The United States called on Sri Lanka to “cease its harassment of civil society, human rights defenders, and journalists” – a call that was echoed by many others.

The Sri Lanka Core Group comprising Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi, Montenegro, the United Kingdom and the United States, also raised concerns regarding the harassment of civil society and labelled any progress on the island “limited”.

Other states, including the UK spoke of Sri Lanka’s treatment of Tamils and Muslims, as well as concerns over land grabs in the North-East.

Read more: UN Human Rights chief reiterates calls for 'targeted sanctions' and prosecutions in new report on Sri Lanka

The discussion on Sri Lanka comes at a year after the global body passed a resolution which mandates the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to "collect" as well as "consolidate, analyse and preserve” evidence that could be used in future war crimes trials.

The UN human rights chief presented a written update to the Council last week, calling on member states to "pursue alternate strategies to advance accountability at the international level" as successive Sri Lankan governments have demonstrated their "unwillingness to pursue accountability."

A comprehensive report on Sri Lanka is due to be delivered at the fifty-first session, later this year


See excerpts from statements delivered at the UN Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka below.


UN High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet

"Two years after the expression of commitments to pursue an 'inclusive, domestically designed and executed reconciliation and accountability process' before this Council, the Government has still not produced a credible roadmap on transitional justice towards accountability and reconciliation," Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council. 

She reiterated her previous calls to member states to "investigate and prosecute" perpetrators of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka "in their jurisdictions, under accepted principles of extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction."

Read more: UN High Commissioner calls on international community to 'pursue alternate strategies to advance accountability' for human rights abuses in Sri Lanka

United States of America

"The United States welcomes Sri Lanka’s effort to amend the Prevention of Terrorism Act and its recent release of more than 40 individuals, many of whom were held for years without charge.  We welcome the move of the NGO Secretariat out of the Ministry of Defense, and initial steps to engage with some civil society representatives."

"We hope to see continued progress.  We urge the government to take further steps to bring PTA reforms into alignment with international human rights law and encourage them to ensure all Sri Lankans have access to justice and can exercise freedom of expression.

We call on the government to cease its harassment of civil society, human rights defenders, and journalists.

To foster reconciliation, the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations should operate effectively, independently, transparently, and in a victim-centric manner. 

We also call on the government to engage with Tamil and Muslim parties and civil society organizations to advance an inclusive lasting political solution."


The Sri Lanka Core Group (Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi, Montenegro, the United Kingdom and the United States)

"Progress since Council resolution 46/1 is limited." 

"In particular, slow progress by the Office of Missing Persons in fully investigating cases since the release of the preliminary list of missing persons is troubling."

"Our concerns over surveillance and intimidation of civil society persist and detentions, threats and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders continue.  It is crucial that civic space remains open."

"The proposed changes to the PTA are very limited and our longstanding concerns remain."


United Kingdom

"We share your concerns regarding the continued lack of progress on accountability and regret that there have been setbacks in several emblematic human rights cases."

"Whilst we acknowledge the NGO Secretariat move to the Foreign Ministry, we have concerns around surveillance and harassment of civil society, and militarisation of civilian governmental functions. The appointment of an individual, named in a key emblematic case, to the post of Provincial Governor, is particularly worrying."

"Whilst we acknowledge ongoing work in Government institutions on reparations and missing persons, it is crucial this is accompanied by a comprehensive reconciliation and accountability process."

"We note with concern that minority communities are facing increased marginalisation, with allegations of land grabs in the North and East of the country."



"We note with concern the limited meaningful action to address past and ongoing human rights violations since Council resolution 46/1. The lack of progress since the release of the list of missing persons by the Office of Missing Persons is disappointing

While we acknowledge proposed amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, these do not go far enough to address longstanding concerns including the persistent culture of intimidation and surveillance of NGOs, human rights defenders, journalists, and religious minorities, including recent arbitrary arrests of Muslims under the Prevention of Terrorism Act."

"Recently, human rights advocates have been targeted for expressing their views and acts of memorialization by Tamils continue repressed."

"The human rights situation could deteriorate further as long as the underlying issues that drove division and led to decades of violence and conflict in Sri Lanka remain unaddressed." 


European Union

"We condemn the ongoing surveillance and harassment of civil society organisations as well as the intimidation following a recent statement made by a representative of Sri Lanka’s civil society before the European Parliament. We urge Sri Lanka to ensure safe civic space. We welcome the transfer of the NGOs secretariat from the Ministry for Defence to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but regret that so far this has not led to concrete improvements for NGOs."

"We stress the importance of democratic space and strong and independent transitional justice institutions such as the Office of Missing Persons."

"Emblematic cases need to be addressed. Accountability must be ensured."

"We continue to be concerned about any form of discrimination against persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities and call for inclusive dialogue with all."


India told Sri Lanka to "take the necessary steps to address the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community".

"India believes that it is in Sri Lanka’s own interest that the expectations of Tamils in Sri Lanka for equality, justice, peace and dignity, within a united Sri Lanka, are fulfilled."

Read more: 'Address the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community' - India tells Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment 


"More comprehensive reforms are urgently needed to bring counter terrorism legislation in line with international standards and allow civil society to operate freely and safely."

"We are deeply concerned about the independence of key institutions, namely the Office of Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations, as well as of the National Human Rights Commission."

"The rights of religious minorities and all communities must be protected. More inclusive governance is needed to strengthen human rights, reconciliation and accountability."

"Attacks against human rights defenders are unacceptable. Safe and open space must be ensured, also for dissent."

"We reiterate our strong conviction that ensuring accountability and justice for victims and survivors is essential for genuine reconciliation and sustainable peace."



"A much more comprehensive and deeper reform agenda, however, is need for Sri Lanka to comply with its international obligations and to prevent a recurrence of grave human rights violations."

"The lack of substantial progress in the domestically driven accountability and reconciliation process further underscores the need for the Government to also adopt and implement comprehensive transitional justice measures. To this end, we welcome the OHCHR's increased involvement in certain issues of the accountability process and recall the critical importance of securing the necessary budgetary allocation for its work." 


Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg

"We share the concerns of OHCHR on the erosion of democratic institutions, the independence of the judiciary, and the lack of accountability for past human rights violations. This not only undermines the democratic system but also impedes reconciliation."


North Macedonia

"Accountability is a key for reconciliation and lasting peace, therefore we reiterate the need for Sri Lanka to put in place a transparent process for prosecution of international crimes and serious human rights violations, as well as pursuing an effective transitional justice process."

"In this regard, undertaking an independent investigation for those responsible of enforced disappearances and providing comprehensive reparation to the families of the disappeared - is of utmost importance."


Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden

"We thank the High Commissioner for her update, noting with regret the limited progress made on Council resolution 46/1."

"We urge Sri Lankan authorities to ensure freedom of speech, including for human rights activists, journalists, and members of minority communities. We call upon the authorities to put an end to surveillance and intimidation of civil society, including arbitrary arrests."

"We are concerned about the lack of progress in the areas of transitional justice, accountability, and reconciliation, and encourage the government to increase their efforts in this regard. We urge the government to ensure the independence and effectiveness of institutions dealing with these issues."

"We are also concerned about reports of deaths of persons in police custody and encourage proper investigations of these events."



"However, we regret the lack of real progress on the measures foreseen in the resolutions of the Council and the reports of the High Commissioner."

"Flagrant impunity continues. The work of the Office of the High Commissioner is crucial in preserving and analyzing evidence of international crimes."



"It has made considerable progress... in national reconciliation with an operational office"

"The former war zones are now being cleared of UXO and there is progress on return of IDPs to their homes. Infrastructure is being built in areas with many Tamil populations. There are also measures to improve the legislation in particular the law to prevent terrorism in order to bring it into line with international standards."

"We note the increase in readiness by Sri Lanka to conduct respectful cooperation with the international human rights mechanisms."



"HRC Resolution 46/1 and the information provided by OHCHR (document A/HRC/49/9) in its follow-up is yet another deplorable example of how a particular group of Western States cynically manipulates the work of the Council and the Office. We are witnessing how OHCHR is being turned into a controlled mechanism to implement the political strategies of the West towards specific UN Member States."

"The information prepared by OHCHR for this session on Sri Lanka and Belarus is a clear example of the implementation of this concept."

"In this regard, we wish to stress that we do not believe a single word of OHCHR."

"We have to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka, which should not be on the agenda of the Human Rights Council at all. We commend the Government of Sri Lanka for its success in post-war reconstruction and reconciliation and for further improving the standard of living of its people."



"My delegation commends Sri Lanka for its continued and constructive cooperation with the OHCHR as well as its achievements made in advancing the rights and fundamental freedom of its people. These achievements have made Sri Lanka achieving an impressive ranking in human development index, remaining a peaceful country, continuing to uphold its longstanding democratic traditions, and advancing as an inclusive society."



"In conclusion, Lebanon calls on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the international community to accompany these efforts in a framework of constructive dialogue and capacity-building, away from selectivity and double standards."



"The Philippines voted against HRC resolution 46/1 as we disagree with the role being set for the OHCHR in collecting evidence and developing strategies for future accountability processes. The decision of the OHCHR to establish an “accountability project” is a breach of the text of the mandate, and in effect a usurpation of the role of State as duty bearer."

"We acknowledge Sri Lanka’s long history of constructive engagement with the OHCHR and UN mechanisms and the government’s efforts in pursuing reconciliation, accountability and human rights through inclusive domestic processes."


Saudi Arabia on behalf of GCC group (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates)

"Our countries stress that the promotion and protection of human rights requires a constructive dialogue and cooperation with the concerned state, as the state bears the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights on its territory.

In this regard, we stress the importance of adhering to the principles of universality, objectivity and non-selectivity, and avoiding politicization when considering human rights issues."


South Sudan

"South Sudan commends the significant achievement made by Sri Lanka in the post-war reconstruction and reconciliation; guided by efforts for the opening up of the former conflict affected areas to fully participate in the democratic processes in the Country, including creating a conducive environment for the safe return and resettlement of the displaced persons."



"That resolution set a dangerous precedent by requiring the Office to collect criminal evidence for future prosecutions."

"We value the great progress made by Sri Lanka for the observance of human rights, since the restoration of peace in 2009, and the significant achievements made in post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation."

"Venezuela rejects any interference in the internal process that Sri Lanka is undergoing towards definitive national reconciliation."



"Viet Nam acknowledges Sri Lanka’s strong commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights in line with the country’s Constitution and international obligations."

"We welcome the progress made by Sri Lanka on the implementation of voluntary commitments since the 46th Session of the HRC, despite severe challenges due to the Covid 19 pandemic."

"We also commend Sri Lanka for the strengthening of national unity and reconciliation through legislative reform as well as through coordinated measures for resettling internally displaced persons, accounting of missing persons, land release and various forms of reparations for victims of past conflicts. Sri Lanka has also made encouraging headway on the implementation of the SDGs."



"We wish to point out that the practice of imposition of country specific initiatives, especially without the consent of the country concerned, is counterproductive and runs counter to the principles of genuine dialogue and cooperation in human rights."

"Since the end of the conflict in the country, Sri Lanka has scored significant achievements in the areas of post-war reconstruction, reconciliation and protection of the rights and fundamental freedoms of its people."



Several NGOs also delivered statements. See excerpts below.


Amnesty International

"Amnesty International remains deeply concerned by the shrinking civic space, and urges the government to halt all forms of reprisals against critics and perceived critics, including those advocating for justice for the tragic April 2019 bombings."

"We have documented how families of the disappeared continue to face obstacles and push back from state agents while they demand their right to truth and justice, including through the State’s pursuit of court orders attempting to restrict their freedom to protest. We have also documented the state’s alarming discrimination and targeting of the Muslim community, which continues unabated."

"Amnesty continues to call for an immediate moratorium on the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which continues to be used to detain hundreds - particularly minorities – for prolonged periods without charge or trial. Repeated attempts to amend the Act have proved futile, including the latest iteration of amendments that fail to address critical gaps in the law to bring it in line with international law. While we welcome court decisions to grant bail to selected PTA detainees, hundreds more still languish in detention without access to bail. Sri Lankan authorities must ensure that all those still detained have access to fair bail hearings and must release those not yet charged with recognizable crimes under international law."


Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

"We remain concerned at the human rights situation in Sri Lanka which stands in stark contrast to the government’s narrative of supposed improvements and reforms."

"Harassment, intimidation and surveillance of human rights defenders, civil society, victims, and their families continue to intensify. The Terrorism Investigation Division regularly targets NGOs and their staff in clear attempts to intimidate and silence them. Those campaigning for credible investigations and accountability for 2019 Easter attacks continues to face harassment."

"The proposed amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act at the core of the government’s narrative of purported reforms are cosmetic and insufficient to address serious concerns with the law and its implementation. We call for an immediate moratorium on the use of the law."

"The appointment of a presidential taskforce to implement the concept of ‘one country, one law’ is another blatant attempt at perpetuating discrimination against minorities for political gain."

"The government continues to obstruct accountability through political interference."

"The Council must not be distracted by superficial gestures of reform and engagement aimed at warding off international criticism. In absence of tangible progress, the Council must be prepared to take further action to advance accountability through international mechanisms including by ensuring support for and sustainability of the OHCHR capacity to collect and preserve evidence."


International Commission of Jurists

"The ICJ welcomes the wide-ranging report of the OHCHR. We appreciate its recognition of the heavy militarization of civilian functions, including the widespread appointment of senior military figures into positions of administrative authority and the need for independence of the Attorney General’s Department."

"In the past year, the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has only deteriorated further."

"The refusal by the Government to ensure accountability for crimes under international law and the release of several high- ranking military personnel suspected of such crimes indicate a continuation of systematic impunity."

"Surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, and activists have increased. Impunity for cases of enforced disappearances and intimidation of the families of the disappeared by security forces continue. Extra-judicial killings by the police have sharply risen and Tamil and Muslim prisoners have been particularly vulnerable to ill-treatment and torture in detention, in one instance committed by a State Minister. Cases of arbitrary detention have increased, and the PTA despite calls for its repeal continues in use."


International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA)

"The High Commissioner and UN human rights bodies have consistently denounced the ongoing militarisation in Sri Lanka, which appears to have been exacerbated during and through the militarised response to COVID-19."

"This developed in parallel with the ongoing militarisation of drug control and treatment in the country, and its negative repercussions on human rights as well as individual and public health."

"Civil society has documented a worrying pattern of deaths in custody of persons arrested for drug offences in supposed shoot-outs with law enforcement, or while assisting law enforcement operations. The lack of investigation into these deaths entrenches impunity and the use of violence by state agencies."


International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)

"On the contrary to its claim, the GoSL is spreading a climate of fear among civil society"

"The GOSL campaign “One Country-One Law” headed by a Buddhist monk who fuelled communal riots is clear example of the reliance of extreme Buddhist ideology for electoral gains."


Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

"We note the concerns about the continued lack of accountability for past human rights violations in Sri Lanka, the alarming trends towards majoritarianism that undermine democratic institutions, and the pattern of intimidation and threats towards human rights defenders and victims."

"We reiterate our calls upon the Council to:

1.         Seek a referral of  the situation of Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court; and

2.         Urge Members states to investigate and prosecute international crimes committed in Sri Lanka through domestic judicial proceedings utilizing the principles of universal jurisdiction."


VIVAT International

"Welcomes the report of the High Commissioner on Sri Lanka and expresses her concern about the human rights situation, especially the lack of independent and democratic institutions, militarization of the country, reprisals against families of disappeared persons and persecution of the human rights defenders. We also share our concern regarding the lack of adequate policy towards reconcilliation, alienation of ethnic and religious minorities and lack of accountability for past crimes."

"Nearly thirteen years after the end of the war, the perpetrators there have not been brought to justice for war crimes."


World Evangelical Alliance

"Violence against religious minorities continues in Sri Lanka with impunity. We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to hold accountable those who commit violence against religious minorities."

"We also call on the Government to repeal bans on full-face covering and cattle slaughter."

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