Sri Lanka’s Human Rights situation will come under the microscope at UNHRC

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet wants targetted sanctions on Sri Lanka/un.org

ECONOMYNEXT – A resolution before the United Nations Human Rights Commission this week is expressing “serious concern over emerging trends over the last year which represents a clear early warning sign of a deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka.”

The resolution brought forward by the so-called “Core Group” of countries comprising Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi and Montenegro said in a statement that the “accelerating militarization of civilian government functions, erosion of the independence of the judiciary and key institutions responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights” are among these indications.

The resolution also says that the “ongoing impunity and political obstruction of accountability for crimes and human rights violations in “emblematic cases”, policies that adversely affect the right to freedom of religion or belief, surveillance and intimidation of civil society and shrinking democratic space, arbitrary detentions, allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment and sexual and gender-based violence” are also matters of concern.

It adds that “these trends threaten to reverse the limited but important gains made in recent years and risk the recurrence of policies and practices that gave rise to the grave violations of the past.”

The resolution also expresses “further concern that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on freedom of religion or belief and exacerbated the prevailing marginalisation and discrimination suffered by the Muslim community, and that the Government of Sri Lanka’s decision to mandate cremations for all those deceased from COVID-19 has prevented Muslims and members of other religions from practising their own burial religious rites, and has disproportionately affected religious minorities and exacerbated distress and tensions.”

A Muslim boy holds up a placard protesting the compulsory cremation of Covid dead/Journalists for Democracy

It calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure “the prompt, thorough and impartial investigation and, if warranted, prosecution of all allegations of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law including for longstanding emblematic cases.”

Minority commentators however have expressed extreme disappointment at the resolution.

Tamil Guardian quoted hardline commentator Dr Kumaravadivel Guruparan as saying “the Core Group has not taken the recommendations of the High Commissioner seriously and has ignored calls from victims for decisive action.”

“The core group lacks the political will to do what is necessary. Weak resolutions will embolden Sri Lanka,” Guruparan a former Senior Lecturer in Law at the Jaffna University said.

Guruparan also said that the resolution has ignored the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

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In her report, Bachelet called for targeted sanctions such as travel bans on selected military officers and more punitive actions against Sri Lanka.

She called for an International Criminal Court investigation into Rights violations during the separatist war accusing Sri Lanka of reneging on promises to ensure justice for thousands of civilians killed in the final stages of the war that ended a decade ago.

Sri Lanka has called the final stage of the war a “humanitarian operation” to save civilians trapped in a war zone by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

“Domestic initiatives for accountability and reconciliation have repeatedly failed to produce results, more deeply entrenching impunity, and exacerbating victims’ distrust in the system,” Bachelet said in the report.

This is the first time that Bachelet has recommended that the ICC look into Sri Lanka’s case and said action should be taken against war criminals, including Tamil Tiger leaders. (Colombo, February 20, 2021)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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