The Commonwealth Secretariat that has come in for harsh criticism for failing to hold Sri Lanka to account over its disastrous human rights record is reportedly supporting the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission on its role in national reconciliation. The “Commonwealth is working with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to determine a roadmap for the Commission’s role in national reconciliation efforts. The Commonwealth Secretariat will facilitate a roundtable from 26 to 27 September in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka,” the Secretariat said in its website.
The report comes two days after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in her oral report to the Hman Rights Council in Geneva that although the United Nations and Commonwealth are supporting the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, the Commission does not seem to be engaged on the critical human rights issues. It also comes hours after Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused the Commonwealth Secretariat and its Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma of “shameful silence” on Sri Lanka’s rights record.
The Commonwealth Secretariat said the roundtable would bring together the Chairperson, commissioners and senior staff of the Commission, civil society organisations from the North of Sri Lanka, and religious leaders who are actively engaged in promoting reconciliation and addressing post-conflict issues in Vavuniya and surrounding areas in the North.
Experts who will participate in the roundtable include Dr David Russell, Deputy Director of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; and Michael Doherty, Executive Director of the Peace and Reconciliation Group, Northern Ireland. Acting Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Karen McKenzie, said: “In determining the role of a national human rights institution such as the HRCSL in national and local reconciliation efforts, there must be recognition of local civil society initiatives. The Commission has the potential to shore up reconciliation efforts, such as acting as a bridge between civil society and government. There is also a role for the Commission in facilitating constructive engagements with the Executive and Parliament on nation-building, reconstruction and development.”
Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009, after more than 25 years of conflict. In May 2013, the Secretariat convened a Commonwealth Roundtable on Reconciliation in London at which a senior delegation from the Commission participated alongside seven other Commonwealth countries. The participants identified critical components for lasting peace after conflict.