Speaking at the 48th UN Human Rights Council session, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence, Fabian Salvioli slammed Sri Lanka noting his that “the last 18 months have witnessed a profound deterioration in the human rights situation, which jeopardizes the transitional justice process”.
“I deeply regret the lack of implementation of the recommendations made in the report, the insufficient progress in relation to the search for the truth, and the flagrant setback in the areas of accountability, memory and guarantees of non-repetition” he added.
His statement follows that of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, which noted that “surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared has not only continued, but has broadened to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies."
In the lead up to the Families of the Disappeared wrote to the High Commissioner noting these failures and the efforts by Sri Lanka’s military to intimidate and harass them whilst they continued their protests to find out what happened to their loved ones.
It has been 1,635 days since the Tamil families began their roadside protests across the eight districts in the North-East. Over the years, over a hundred participants in these protests have died without learning the fate of their loved ones. Due to the state-imposed lockdown, these families chose to continue their protest at home, lighting lamps.
Sri Lanka’s response
Responding to the Special Rapporteur’s remarks, the delegation representing Sri Lanka claimed that “there are no restrictions whatsoever for individual family members to memorialize loved-ones with their relatives”.
Instead, the delegation argued that these family members were attempting to “glorify and promote the LTTE” through through these memoralisations. They went on to assert that the government has banned the use of symbols of the LTTE and that “local courts in the relevant areas have prevented these events”. These courts they maintain have taken into account the supposed risk to public security and ongoing pandemic.
Denying victim’s experience
Last September, then UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff highlighted that crackdown on memorialisation events including those that memoralised the fallen Tamil Tigers had a damaging psychological impact which was “retraumatizing and alienating”. This is because it denied victims of a chance to memorialise their experience
“Grieving families have expressed the need to bury or destroy photographs of their deceased loved ones in uniform for fear of harassment by the security forces” he noted.