A second draft resolution focusing on Sri Lanka has been released by the United Nations Human Rights Council today. The amended resolution does little to strengthen accountability measures and the change of wording reveals a fundamental failure to recognise the root causes of Sri Lanka’s woes.
From ‘re-energise’ to an ‘independent’ OMP
A key amendment to the resolution is around the Office of Missing Persons (OMP). Rather than calling to for “re-energising” the institution there is instead a call for its “effective and independent functioning”.
The emphasis on its independence follows international condemnation of political appointments to the OMP under the Rajapaksa administration. In May 2020, Parliament Council appointed former Inspector General of Police, Hapu Arachchige Jayantha Shantha Kumara Wickremaratne as a member of the OMP.
The move was widely condemned with Yasmin Sooka, executive director of the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), stating in a press release:
"It’s hard to make this up – the man who was in charge of three police units named by the United Nations investigation as involved in mass enforced disappearances at the end of the war is now investigating the disappearances himself".
However, the issues with the OMP precede Rajapaksa’s presidency.
“We even have a problem with the name ‘Office of Missing Persons’. Our children did not go missing on their own. They were victims of enforced disappearances” Leeladevi Anandanadarajah, the Secretary of the North-East Relatives of the Missing Persons Association and Thambirasa Selvarani, President of the Amparai District Missing Persons' Association told Tamil Guardian.
“Even before the OMP Act was instituted, we did not agree with any of its provisions. To establish the OMP Act, there were consultations that were held but none of the resolutions were incorporated into the Act. When the OMP was established, there was no transparency and none of our expectations were fulfilled.”
Tamil Families of the Disappeared have repeatedly protested against the OMP over the years, stressing the need for international action. These protests follow repeated failures by the Sirisena administration to meet the recommendations of these families and storming out of a meeting with them in November 2017.
Diluting the resolution?
Concerns have also been raised surrounding some of the amendments that activists maintain have weakened the resolution.
On Sri Lanka’s economic collapse, a clause concerning repeat occurrences is removed.
11. Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to address the ongoing economic crisis
and help ensure it does not happen again, including by investigating and, where warranted, prosecuting corruption, including by public and former public officials, and stands ready to assist and support independent, impartial, and transparent efforts in this regard;
The removal of this clause provides the impression that Sri Lanka’s current economic malaise is an abnormality, but it is worth bearing in mind that the island has turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) 16 times before this current crisis, not to mention the numerous loans received from other international institutions.
On concerns over religious persecution, the specific example of the islamophobic ban on cremations is shortened to stress the need to address discrimination and ensure Muslims and other religious groups can practice their own religious rites.
Also dropped is specific concern over presidential pardons. Whereas before the resolution highlighted “that emblematic human rights cases have been undermined through delays and the granting of Presidential pardon”, the statement now solely draws emphasis on the lack of “the persistent lack of independent, impartial, and transparent domestic mechanisms”.
Regarding militarisation, the point has changed the emphasises the importance of “preserving civilian government functions from militarisation” instead of noting the “continued militarisation of government functions”.
The language also drops the mention of the “lack of progress in addressing longstanding grievances” and instead simply notes the grievances of Tamils and Muslim.
However, the resolution now highlights issues of “prolonged internal displacement; land disputes”, in addition to the harassment of “journalists, civil society actors, human rights defenders, families of the disappeared and persons involved in memorialization initiative” as well as continued sexual violence.
Conciliatory towards Sri Lanka
The language of the resolution is also amended to be more conciliatory towards Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is thanked for its “continued engagement with the special procedures of the Human Rights Council” and takes note of its overseas outreach:
The resolution states that it “takes note of the Sri Lankan Government’s initial outreach to overseas persons of Sri Lankan origin encompassing all communities and generations and encourages the Sri Lankan Government to engage further in a broad-based consultative process with stakeholders from all affected communities and provide remedies to achieve meaningful reconciliation, devolution of political authority, an improved human rights situation, and lasting peace”.
This is despite the repeated insistence from Sri Lanka’s foreign minister that he does not support UN resolution 46/1 and the continued proscription of several Tamil and Muslim organisations.
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