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UN human rights chief calls for ‘renewed attention’ on Sri Lanka ‘to prevent threats to peace’

UN High Commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet called on the UN Human Rights Council to ensure there was “renewed attention to Sri Lanka” this morning, as she warned of “threats to peace, reconciliation and sustainable development”.

Speaking in Geneva at the opening of the 45th session of the Human Rights Council, Bachelet said she was “troubled that the new Government is swiftly reneging on its commitments to the Human Rights Council since it withdrew its support for resolution 30/1”.

“Among other developments, the proposed 20th amendment to the Constitution may negatively impact on the independence of key institutions, including the National Human Rights Commission,” she added.

“The pardon given in March to a former Army sergeant convicted of participating in unlawful killings; appointments to key civilian roles of senior military officials allegedly involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity; and moves within the police and judiciary to thwart the investigation of such crimes, set a very negative trend. The surveillance and intimidation of victims, their families, human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers should cease immediately.”

The High Commissioner concluded speaking on Sri Lanka by stating she encouraged the Council “to give renewed attention to Sri Lanka, in view of the need to prevent threats to peace, reconciliation and sustainable development”.

Her address comes after Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa threatened to withdraw his government from global bodies if attempts to prosecute Sri Lankan soldiers for war crimes are pursued. “If any international body or organization continuously target our country and our war heroes, using baseless allegations, I will also not hesitate to withdraw Sri Lanka from such bodies or organizations,” he declared earlier this year.“I assure you that under my administration, we will take every measure always to protect the dignity of our heroic forces.”

Sri Lanka had already formally informed the Council of its intention to withdraw its co-sponsorship of a resolution that mandated a hybrid accountability mechanism to prosecute those accused of committing mass atrocities. Several member states expressed disappointment and concern at Sri Lanka’s decision, whilst Bachelet called on the Council to “to remain alert to this situation in terms of prevention and to explore all possible avenues for advancing accountability”.

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