Sri Lanka: UN Gives Tough Recommendations to Address the Crisis

The High Commissioner reiterates the recommendations made in her previous reports and by United Nations human rights mechanisms.

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Following excerpts adapted from the Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General on the Situation of human rights in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is facing a devastating economic crisis, which has been severely impacting the lives of the people and underscored the indivisibility of human rights. The High Commissioner urges the international community to support Sri Lanka in its recovery. For sustainable improvement, however, it is vital to recognize and assist Sri Lanka to address the underlying factors, which have contributed to this crisis, including embedded impunity for past and present human rights abuses, economic crimes and corruption. Support from international community will have meaningful and sustainable impact if Sri Lanka undertakes deeper structural, constitutional and political reforms to strengthen democratic checks and balances and restore the independence of institutions.

The broad-based demands by Sri Lankans from all communities for accountability and democratic reforms present an important starting point for a new and common vision for the future. The High Commissioner believes there is the opportunity for a new meaningful national dialogue on how Sri Lanka can be transformed into an inclusive, pluralist and fully democratic State based on accountability, the rule of law, non-discrimination and respect for human rights. Ensuring an environment for freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and democratic participation will be essential. The High Commissioner encourages the Government to positively engage with the protest movements in a broad- based and participatory process to address the broader political and systemic root causes that have long perpetuated discrimination and undermined human rights.

Impunity remains a central obstacle to the rule of law, reconciliation and Sri Lanka’s sustainable peace and development, and remains the core risk factor for recurrence of further violations. Thirteen years since the end of the war, victims of past human rights violations continue to await truth and justice. The Sri Lankan State, including through successive governments, has consistently failed to pursue an effective transitional justice process to hold perpetrators of gross human rights violations and abuses accountable and uphold victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations. Rather, they have created political obstacles to accountability, actively promoted and incorporated some military officials credibly implicated in alleged war crimes into the highest levels of government. This impunity emboldened those committing human rights violations and created a fertile ground for corruption and the abuse of power. Without an effective vetting process and comprehensive reforms in the security sector, serious human rights violations and atrocity and economic crimes risk being repeated as the State apparatus and some of its members credibly implicated in alleged grave crimes and human rights violations remain in place.

Fundamental changes will therefore be required to address the current challenges and to avoid the repetition of the human rights violations of the past. In this context, the new Government should immediately reverse the drift towards militarization, end the reliance on draconian security laws and crackdowns on peaceful protest, and show renewed commitment to security sector reform and ending impunity. It should recommit to a genuine, comprehensive and transformative transitional justice process, with benchmarks and timelines for implementation, and in consultation with the victims and civil society and with support from international partners. Further, it should pursue a more fundamental constitutional reform through broad- based and consultative processes representative of all Sri Lankans to strengthen democratic check and balances and devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population.

The Human Rights Council should continue to monitor developments closely, and in the absence of tangible results at the national level that ensure justice for Sri Lankan people, Member States should continue to pursue complementary international strategies for justice and accountability for human rights violations, corruption and abuse of power. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will continue to accompany the people of Sri Lanka in this vital journey.

The High Commissioner reiterates the recommendations made in her previous reports and by United Nations human rights mechanisms. OHCHR remains ready to provide technical assistance to the implementation of these recommendations, as required, including through the strengthening of its country presence to support the Government and people of Sri Lanka at this critical time.

OHCHR recommends that the Sri Lankan authorities:

(a) Take all necessary measures to guarantee people’s economic and social rights during the economic crisis; ensure immediate relief for the most marginalized and vulnerable individuals and groups based on non-discrimination and protection of human rights, and strengthen social protection by increasing financing and extending it to cover emerging needs;
(b) Reduce considerably military spending, decisively tackle corruption and increase investments in health, social security and education through international co-operation; assess any potential human rights impact of international financial assistance programmes and take preventive measures to reduce it to the bare minimum;
(c) Undertake a broad -based consultative process representative of all Sri Lankans to advance constitutional reforms that guarantee the independence of key institutions, including the judiciary and the Human Rights Commission, and advance the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation;
(d) Prepare a comprehensive strategy on transitional justice and accountability, with a time bound plan to implement outstanding commitments, including taking steps in relation to the establishment of a credible truth-seeking mechanism and an ad hoc special court, as well as security sector reform and vetting; also re-energise the Office of Missing Persons and Office for Reparations to ensure they can discharge their full mandate independently and effectively;
(e) Pursue investigation and prosecutions in emblematic cases of human rights violations; release the complete findings of previous inquiries into the Easter Sunday bombings and establish a follow-up independent and transparent investigation with international assistance and the full participation of victims and their representatives;
(f) Take steps to end the influence of the military on civilian spheres and reduce military presence in the Northern and Eastern provinces;
(g) Return all private land held by the military and impartially adjudicate land disputes, including through interfaith dialogue about the erection of religious sites;
(h) Ensure the new legislation to the Prevention of Terrorism Act and proposed laws on digital security fully complies with Sri Lanka’s international law obligations; Observe a strict moratorium on the use of PTA and expedite the release of detainees and long-term prisoners under the PTA;
(i) Review the necessity and proportionality of Emergency Regulations and ensure proposed regulation of social media protect freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression;
(j) Invite OHCHR to strengthen its country presence and provide technical assistance to authorities and civil society in Sri Lanka;
The High Commissioner reiterates the recommendations she made in paragraph 61 of her report to the Human Rights Council and Member States in 2021 and further recommends that they:
(a) Request OHCHR to continue its enhanced monitoring and report regularly to the Council on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including progress towards accountability and reconciliation and steps to address economic crimes that have impacted on human rights;
(b) Encourage relevant thematic special procedures to examine and make recommendations on human rights dimensions of the economic crisis;
(c) Reinforce the capacity provided in resolution 46/1 for OHCHR to work on accountability for human rights violations and related crimes;
(d) Cooperate in investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of international crimes committed by all parties in Sri Lanka through judicial proceedings in national jurisdictions, including under accepted principles of extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction, through relevant international networks and in cooperation with victims and their representatives;
(e) Explore further targeted sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans against those credibly alleged to have perpetrated gross international human rights violations or serious humanitarian law violations;
(f) Support Sri Lanka in the investigation of economic crimes that impact on human rights and the tracing and recovery of stolen assets.

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