16 May, 2022

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UN Report On Sri Lanka Describes Alarming Rights Situation – Governments Should Impose Targeted Sanctions, Press For Justice: HRW

The report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka shows the rights situation in alarming decline and contradicts government claims of improvement, Human Rights Watch said today. The report, issued on February 25, 2022, documents discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities and security forces’ targeting of civil society groups, while accountability for past abuses has been blocked.

Gotabaya

UN member states should carry out High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s recommendations, including by imposing targeted sanctions on alleged Sri Lankan rights violators, pursuing justice for international crimes committed in Sri Lanka through universal jurisdiction, providing asylum for Sri Lankans at risk of persecution, and supporting the UN Accountability Project mandated by the Human Rights Council in 2021. The UN should apply human rights due diligence standards in its engagement with the Sri Lankan security forces, and review Sri Lanka’s contributions to UN peacekeeping operations.

“The Sri Lankan government has responded to international scrutiny of its rights record with a false and misleading public relations offensive,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “UN member countries should redouble their efforts to press the Sri Lankan government to make real progress on rights.”

Sri Lanka’s devastating civil war, from 1983 to 2009, between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) resulted in numerous abuses by both sides. The UN documented large-scale war crimes by government forces and the LTTE in the final months of the war. Instead of providing accountability for abuses, the current government, led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is pursuing policies that are hostile to the Tamil and Muslim communities, while using the security forces to intimidate and suppress human rights activists and the families of victims of enforced disappearance. Abuses, including torture, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killings, have continued.

The High Commissioner noted in her report that the current government “has continued to demonstrate its unwillingness to recognise those serious international crimes and pursue accountability,” and instead has appointed “some military officials who may have been implicated in alleged war crimes into the highest levels of Government.” Those who held command responsibility for alleged violations include President Rajapaksa, Defense Secretary Kamal Gunaratne, and the army chief, Gen. Shavendra Silva.

The UN report highlights the case of former Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, who was charged in connection with the enforced disappearance of 11 people in 2008 and 2009 until the attorney general dropped the charges in August 2021. In December, President Rajapaksa appointed him a provincial governor.

The High Commissioner described a growing militarization of civilian government functions, including law enforcement. She highlighted the large number of military checkpoints in the Tamil majority Northern Province, where there are “complaints of discriminatory treatment or harassment… particularly for women.” In the Eastern Province, the UN recorded 45 land disputes involving government officials and members of minority communities between January and November 2021. Bachelet found that minority communities fear that a government program to identify and construct Buddhist sites is “being used to change the demographic landscape of the [eastern] region.”

In addition to Tamils and Muslims, Christians also face abuses and discrimination. Bachelet wrote that the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, in which a militant Islamist group targeted churches and hotels, killing over 260 people, “continue to call urgently for truth, justice, reparation for victims and a full account of the circumstances that permitted those attacks, in particular the role of the security establishment.” On February 18, a former senior police investigator filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging that military intelligence officers had sought to protect the bombers prior to the attacks.

The authorities have continued to target civil society groups, including human rights defenders and the families of victims of past violations who are campaigning for justice, Bachelet found. Activists are “regularly visited in their offices or homes or called by the police for inquiries,” while, in the north and east, “[o]rganisations report being unable to work without surveillance” and have to “get approval from the [government] district secretariat for any activity.”

Bachelet also detailed how the authorities have repeatedly sought to prevent members of the Tamil community from commemorating those who died in the civil war, while “[r]eports indicate that at least 70 people have been arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for sharing social media posts commemorating victims of the war.”

The PTA has been used for decades to enable prolonged arbitrary detention and torture. A recent Human Rights Watch report documented that the Rajapaksa administration has used the law to target Tamils and Muslims, as well as civil society figures, including lawyers, journalists, and opposition politicians. On February 10, amid growing international pressure, including from the European Union, the Sri Lankan government submitted amendments to the law.

In her report, High Commissioner Bachelet found that the “proposed amendments do not comply fully with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations and leave intact some of the most problematic provisions of the PTA,” and said that the government should address the “five key benchmarks identified by seven Special Procedures [UN experts] mandates… as ‘necessary prerequisites’ to ensure the PTA is amended to be compliant with international law obligations.”

On March 2, UN rights experts said the proposed amendments fell short of Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations. They said there should be an immediate moratorium on the use of the law and that “[t]he actions of the Sri Lankan Government call into question its commitment to reform.”

Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris has told diplomats that the Office of Missing Persons, which was set up in 2017 to establish what happened to victims of enforced disappearance, and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, are part of a domestic effort to provide “accountability” and “meaningful reconciliation.”

However, the UN High Commissioner found that the policy of the Office of Missing Persons “seems to be aimed at reducing the case load and closing files rather than a comprehensive approach to establish the truth and ensure justice and redress to families.” In October, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions found that the status of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka should be downgraded, due to its lack of independence from the government.

“The Sri Lankan government is actively targeting minorities and civil society groups, while it protects alleged rights violators and undermines the rule of law,” Ganguly said. “Victims of abuses and vulnerable groups are depending on the United Nations and Sri Lanka’s international partners to keep up the pressure, to help protect what remains of civil society space, and to push for justice and accountability.” (HRW)

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Latest comments

  • 20
    2

    At last UN and other international bodies, seems to have got the hang of it. GLP didn’t help the cause by saying “preserving witness is impediment for reconciliation”. The reply he got from UN “purpose of OMP and AG is to close files”.

    • 3
      2

      soman

      Where are you?

      Please listen to this clip:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wtoSijJmXw
      UNHRC Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet -04-3-22

      Is the entire state and rulers in trouble?
      I suggest all war criminals collectively must find ways to escape, the island in good time.

      What do you suggest?
      Where will you go to?
      Canada?

    • 1
      0

      Profess G L Peiris said this in reply to the report by UNHRC,
      “..We are dismayed by the High Commissioner’s unwarranted onslaught on seminal institutions of our country which function under the aegis of Sri Lanka’s Constitution and legal system, emanating from a rich and varied cultural heritage, and are subject to stringent review processes which form an integral part of our tried and tested laws..”
      Had the so called seminal institutions done the job they are supposed to do sincerely, international bodies need not have got involved in the human rights violations issues in Sri Lanka.
      Sadly all the people running these institutions in Sri Lanka are also mired in the ethnonational supremacist mind set. The UNHRC correctly identified that these so called seminal institutions in Sri Lanka won’t do the job they are supposed to do.
      As an example the UNHRC had in the report criticised the appointment of a retired Supreme Court judge as incapable of impartial action. This is what the report said about him.
      “ Right to Information Commission, which has made important rulings, may also be undermined following the appointment of retired Supreme Court Justice Upali Abeyratne as the Chair. As highlighted in previous reports, Justice Abeyratne served as Chair of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on alleged political victimisation which obstructed and intervened in judicial proceedings on several “emblematic” human rights cases.”

  • 21
    3

    You cannot hide the truth and there is no point in denying the truth. Even a Sinhalese child can understand this fact. It is no point in wasting time that we are doing this and that at the UNHRC sessions is not going to help Sri Lanka. Buddhist Sinhala should understand that you all are victims in the hands of fake patriotisms. Tamils and Muslims never engaged against to Buddhism or Sinhala people in the past seven decades. They just want equal rights. Some may say that the constitution and laws are equal to all. Open your heart and tell us what happened to those who burnt Jaffna library? Did the law or constitution allowed to burn? You may not lived in 1958 but you may have heard that the persons lived in next door was forcefully dragged into street and burnt them. What happened to the law and constitution? Just you all are aware the call by politicians and Buddhist Monks told you that a Muslim doctor sterilised 8000 Sinhalese women and the police arrested the doctor and kept in jail for months. What happened to the law? You can tell thousands of such cases. Because of this fake patriotism you have lost thousands of your own children and you don’t now whether you can eat your next meal. Is it necessary?

    • 1
      3

      Ajith,
      “You cannot hide the truth and there is no point in denying the truth.”

      Tamil politicians in Yapanaya are making a desperate attempt to hide the truth that they passed Vaddukkodai Resolution to create a separate State within Sinhale by grabbing Sinhala land in NE, declared war against the Government of Sri Lanka and Sinhala Nation, asked Tamils to take up arms and fight until they achieve the objective of creating Eelam and promoted Tamil terrorists who massacred Sinhala Buddhists for three decades committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    • 2
      0

      This is why Mr Nagananda Kodituwakku ( General Secretary of Sri Lanka Vinivida Peramuna Party )
      Wants to bring in a constitution to introduce a system change to SriLanka In order to eradicate discrimination, corruption and establish accountability and rule of law to this lawless nation. Lee Kuan yew style governance

    • 2
      0

      Well said. The minority in Sri Lanka simply want equal rights, to live a life without being discriminated by policy, or attacked by some sections of the majority (led by saffron robed thugs), and be acknowledged as patriotic citizens, who have contributed to the progress of this country for generations. These naive racist members of the majority seems to be easily swayed by fake propaganda of charmed toffees, and doctors sterilizing Buddhist women. It is only when we have leaders who unite this country, treat all ethnicities the same, and include the minority in their policies, will this country be on the right track to progress and succeed.

  • 13
    3

    Most all the Sinhala political parties and Buddhist organizations oppose equal rights to the Tamils/Hindus Christians/ Muslims. Due to their inferiority complex, they want to keep others under their feet. Buddhists have statues of Hindu gods in their Pansalas ad pay respect by offering flowers and bows. But now they are keen to destroy the Hindu temples and Plant Lord Buddha- a Hindu so that Srilanka will be an exclusive land of the Sinhala Buddhists. I feel sorry for Lord Buddha whose preaching of ‘Ahimsa’ is being misinterpreted to suit the politician’s need for power
    Whether it be with or without dollars/fuel/Milk/rice.

  • 19
    2

    Unless and until the UN imposes travel and financial restrictions against the “Kaputa Family”, GLP and those who violated human rights including Attorney General, Armed Forces Seniors, monks and civilians, Sri Lanka will never fall in line with the Human Rights traditions of the world.

  • 4
    20

    Ts and Ms who resorted to terrorism and massacred thousands of innocent unarmed Sinhala Buddhist civilians are making a desperate attempt to clean their blood soaked hands by putting the blame on Government of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Armed Forces and Sinhala Buddhists.

    • 5
      1

      You forgot 1983!

      • 1
        2

        Buddhists 1,
        “You forgot 1983”

        All the clashes after Sinhalayo gained independence between indigenous Sinhalayo and Tamils who were accommodated by Sinhala Buddhists in their country were started by Tamils. So is the 1983 incident. Tamil terrorists started 1983 clash by killing 13 ‘Ranaviruwo’ of the Sri Lanka Army using land mines.

    • 4
      1

      BLIND BAT EYE, you are not only a dumb racist but a dimwit too. Remember what happened in 57/58/77/83/2009? Keep writing here and continue to make a complete fool of yourself.

  • 6
    1

    The way things are happening is alarming, UN need to take prompt action without any further delays to reverse the deteriorating trend on HR and actions of government agencies especially POLICE and Attorney General.

    • 2
      2

      Jaye17,
      “…reverse the deteriorating trend on HR…”

      Strange thing is UN never see HR violations committed by Tamils against majority Sinhala Buddhists and oppression of fellow Tamils by Tamils in Yapanaya.

    • 3
      0

      ….The way things are happening is alarming….
      Very true as the govt changed tactics by appointing a pliant Tamil, Sanjay R as AG, who just stomachs insults by a Judge in open court and has no guts to defend himself purely to stay in the coveted post of AG, and happy, not to even appeal any ‘nidhos kota nidhahas’ of Basil, but very prompt to appeal the acquittal of former IGP and Def Sec, purely to protect the State Intelligence & GR..

    • 3
      0

      ….The way things are happening is alarming….
      The govt’s “don’t care” attitude about UN or public sentiment is shown by appointment of convict Galabodatthre as Chairman One Country One Law’ Commission and discredited Pissu Pusa as Chairman RTI Commission.

  • 2
    0

    Ordinary people in Sri Lanka must ask themselves if they are being treated fairly and in a just manner when seeking the protection of the law enforcement authority (Police) and the judicial system. If the answer is NO, then they should not believe what their governments tell them about human rights improvements etc. The opinions of the international HR agencies that Sri Lanka falsifies records to show them in a positive light are credible, as duplicity and deceit are common and widespread in Sri Lanka, with corruption being endemic. It would be commendable if all those guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes are punished by an international court of justice. Alas, with evidence being erased systematically and the jurisdictions remaining as recommendations only, no international court will bring the criminals to justice. It must be noted that local convicted murderers and drug lords are pardoned by executive authority, so the foreign ministers’ lies cannot be credible anyway.

  • 2
    0

    Human Rights Council of Srilanka is a salubrious pasture land for some luck few with political connections. They have a mandate to do nothing.

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