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‘Sensationalised and biased’ - Sri Lanka lashes out at Human Rights Watch

Responding to a damning Human Rights Watch report, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry has lashed out against the findings claiming that “sensationalized and biased reporting” risks “risks igniting and aggravating domestic discord”.

In their statement, the Foreign Ministry claimed that Sri Lanka was “engaged in pursuing sustainable peace” through a “domestically designed and executed reconciliation and accountability process”. Human rights advocates have long criticised this commitment noting the government’s failure to hold accountable perpetrators of mass atrocities and the lack of political will.

Since coming to office, President Rajapaksa has promoted several accused war criminals to senior government postings whilst also pardoning criminals such as Sunil Ratnayake who was convicted of killing 8 Tamil civilians, including children, at Mirusuvil in 2000.

The Foreign Ministry further slammed the evidence gathering mechanism included in UNHRC resolution 46/1 which it describes as “unwarranted” and warns will “lead to politicisation and polarisation in Sri Lanka”.


Office of Missing Persons

The government further alleged that they had made “important progress in delivering on post-conflict reconciliation, accountability and human rights”. They noted that additional financial support for institutions such as the Office of Missing Persons however did not acknowledge recent political appointments which threaten the independence of the institution.

This includes the widely condemned appointment of former Inspector General of Police, Hapu Arachchige Jayantha Shantha Kumara Wickremaratne to the Office of Missing Persons in May 2021.

"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," responded International Truth and Justice Project, Executive Director, Yasmin Sooka.

In a statement, the ITJP noted that his appointment "completes the militarisation of this transitional justice mechanism" and "obliterates any chance of truth and justice" for Tamil families of the disappeared.


Prevention of Terrorism Act

In the Foreign Ministry’s statement, it congratulated the government for releasing prisoners held under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and for reforming the bill. However, the reforms introduced expanded the scope of the legislation and have been criticised by human rights activists.

In December, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, G.L. Peiris confirmed that the government would renege on its previous commitments to repeal the bill despite calls from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for an “immediate moratorium on the use of the Act and that a clear timeline be set for its comprehensive review or repeal."

The bill has been disproportionately used to imprison Tamil youth and has been linked to systemic torture on the island.

Read more here: Not All Detainees Are Equal: Class, Ethnicity and the Prevention of Terrorism Act

Read more here: ‘PTA cannot be amended, It must be replaced’ - M.A Sumanthiran, TNA MP

Engaging with civil society

The foreign ministry also alleged a willingness to work with domestic civil society partners as well as broader diaspora groups.

This comes despite HRW’s report detailing the increased surveillance, intimidation, and threats against human rights defenders and Families of the Disappeared.

In March the government issued a wide-reaching proscription against hundreds of Tamil individuals and organisations under the auspices of counterterrorism. In their report, HRW details how charities have had their finances targeted by the government under the same pretence.

Read the Foreign Ministry's full statement here.


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