UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has issued a damning report on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation on Wednesday, urging the international community to take strong actions to prevent another human rights tragedy unfolding in the war-torn island, including targeted sanctions and punitive actions against perpetrators.
One year into the Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency, the UN Envoy on Human Rights has for the first time ever called on member states of the Human Rights Council to pursue the referral of Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the body established by the Rome Statute in 1998 to try perpetrators of war crimes, genocide and violations of international human rights law.
In a warning sign to Sri Lankans accused of war crimes and human rights violations – many of whom have found a place in the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration as high officials – the High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged member states to strongly consider targeted sanctions against such individuals including travel bans and a freeze on their assets in foreign jurisdictions.
Several officials attached to the current administration in Sri Lanka have already faced difficulties with travel sanctions. Army Chief General Shavendra Silva and his entire family have already been banned from travel to the US as an alleged perpetrator of war crimes, and Gotabaya Rajapaksa has struggled to get Western capitals to accept his military ambassadorial nominees.
The report itself is an early warning that Sri Lanka will face stormy international waters as it reckons with its human rights record in Geneva in February-March when the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council takes place. President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself is a person of interest in crimes the UN has called “emblematic” including the murder and abductions of journalists. As Defence Secretary he was also at the top of the chain of command during the final stages of the war when the UN says tens of thousand of civilians were killed in military actions that were tantamount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Former CID Director Shani Abeysekera and former CID IP Nishantha Silva – both officials who doggedly pursued justice for emblematic abuses the UN has previously flagged, have been mentioned in the High Commissioner’s report as evidence that the Government of Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa has done everything in its power to stall and reverse investigations against perpetrators of grave crimes.
“One former chief of the Criminal Investigation Division, who led investigations into several emblematic human rights cases, has been arrested while another inspector from the Division left Sri Lanka, fearing reprisals for his lead investigative role in several emblematic cases, and now faces criminal charges.
“While the criminal justice system in Sri Lanka has long been the subject of interference, the current Government has proactively obstructed or sought to stop ongoing investigations and criminal trials to prevent accountability for past crimes,” the report states.
Bachelet stressed that the failure to deal with the past continues to have devastating effects on tens of thousands of family members from all communities who persist in seeking justice, reparations – and the truth about the fate of their loved ones.
See full report here