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Sri Lanka circumvents findings of UN expert

The Sri Lankan government skirted past key concerns raised by the former UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last week, arguing instead that progress was being made. 

Disregarding the credible allegations of systematic human rights violations and mass atrocities committed by Sri Lankan troops against Tamil civilians in the final stages of the armed conflict, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka in Geneva, A L A Azeez claimed, "as a country that has suffered from terrorism, we realize and recognize that the promotion, protection and respect of human rights and rule of law are essential in countering terrorism."

Emmerson's report, which highlighted systematic torture, the lack of accountability and a climate of impunity, was presented at the Council's 40th session in Geneva by the current Rapporteur.

Drawing attention to the fact the report was compiled following Emmerson's visit to Sri Lanka in 2017, Azeez said in a statement on Friday that progress had been made since that point. 

Responding to Emmerson's concerns about the lack of progress on repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act, Azeez pointed to the government's current Counter Terrorism Act proposals, despite widespread concerns from Tamil and Sri Lankan rights groups that the CTA is equally oppressive against fundamental freedoms. 

Read full statement by Sri Lanka, during the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism on March 1, here

The statement followed a written submission by Colombo last month layed out a veiled but detailed rebuttal to the Special Rapporteurs , describing the report's use of the term 'majority Sinhalese governmet' as "perjorative" and the report's description of an 'armed uprising among large segments of the marginalized and disenfranchised Tamil population' as "not reflective of the factual situation". 

Read full written response here


Ben Emmerson (right). Sri Lanka 2017

Systematic torture, lack of accountability and climate of impunity

Emmerson's report, released in 2018 following his visit to Sri Lanka, warned of the "pervasive climate of impunity" and a "lack of accountability". 

Pointing to the government's "long overdue" commitment to review and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the report noted the "routine and systemic use of torture and ill-treatment under the Act and the conditions of detention." 

Extract reproduced below: 

"The Special Rapporteur assesses that the progress of the new counterterrorism legislation, together with the management of past cases under the Act, has been painfully slow, and this has, in turn, delayed the wider package of transitional justice measures that Sri Lanka committed to deliver in 2015. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur observed a pervasive and insidious form of stigmatization of the Tamil community. Tamils are severely underrepresented in all institutions, particularly in the security sector and the judiciary, despite the importance of ensuring that all institutions adequately reflect the ethnic, linguistic and religious make-up of the State." 

"Sri Lanka must urgently implement its commitments made in line with Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 to address the legacy of widespread and serious human rights violations that occurred in the context of the internal armed conflict in the country. The pervasive climate of impunity and the lack of accountability for serious human rights violations that occurred both during the conflict and in the aftermath requires immediate redress. The security sector is in need of urgent reform."

"The counter-terrorism legislation requires a complete overhaul to bring it into line with international human rights law. Failure to address these issues promptly and effectively will provide fertile ground for those intent on resorting to political violence, as real and perceived grievances are exploited by militants to garner support among vulnerable and alienated sections of the population. The price that future generations in Sri Lanka will have to pay for the continuation of this legal repression may prove as costly, or even costlier, than that which has so far confronted the present generation."

Read report presented at the Council last week here

Echoing the UN Special Rapporteur's recommendations, the Tamil activists with 'Pasumai Thaayagam', urged the Council to call for a complete overhaul of the counterterrorism apparatus. 

Read more: Overhaul of Sri Lanka's counter-terrorism apparatus is necessary say Tamil activists