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UN human rights chief’s remarks on 20A unwarranted, Sri Lanka tells UNHRC session

Acting Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Dayani Mendis

ECONOMYNEXT – The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) yesterday refuted UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet’s recent remarks on the proposed 20th amendment to the country’s constitution as being “unwarranted and pre-judgemental”.

Acting Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Dayani Mendis told the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva yesterday (15) that the draft amendment submitted through parliament will be discussed and debated following a “complete democratic process” in which all stakeholders will have the opportunity to present their views.

“Therefore, the GoSL is of the view that the High Commissioner’s comments on the proposed 20th amendment are unwarranted and pre-judgmental, [and] based on presumption,” she said.

On Monday (14) at the opening of the UNHRC session, High Commissioner Bachelet expressed concern about the impact the 20th amendment would have on the independence of key institutions including the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission.

“In Sri Lanka, I am troubled that the new Government is swiftly reneging on its commitments to the Human Rights Council since it withdrew its support for resolution 30/1. Among other developments, the proposed 20th amendment to the Constitution may negatively impact on the independence of key institutions, including the National Human Rights Commission,” she said.

Responding to Bachelet’s remarks, Mendis said said that even as Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of Resolution 30/1, Sri Lanka made it clear that it will remain committed to achieve reconciliation, accountability and human rights within the framework of the Sri Lankan constitution through a domestically designed and executed process in line with the government’s policy framework.

“Sri Lanka would like to state further that the new government which assumed office with the election of the new parliament on August 5 remains committed to the assurances given before this council in February this year,” said Mendis.

In response to a remark by the UN human rights chief on the release in March 2020 of Sgt Sunil Ratnayake who had been convicted of killing Tamil civilians, Mendis said: “The GoSL wishes to state that the pardon to the former Army sergeant was granted in terms of the powers and provisions of the constitution of Sri Lanka.”

In her speech, Bachelet referred to the purported appointment of senior military officials accused of war crimes to key civilian positions as well as alleged attempts at the police and judiciary levels to thwart investigations into said crimes, which she said sets a “very negative trend”.

Mendis rejected the references made to what she called false and unsubstantiated allegations leveled against said military officials.

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“Sri Lanka has consistently refuted the credibility of these allegations and wishes to highlight that the domestic processes such as the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) and Paranagama Commissions that examined these allegations particularly with regard to the last stages of the conflict, have not found substantive evidence against any of the senior military officials referred to in this regard.

“In the absence of any substantive proof, Sri Lanka considers that the continued arbitrary accusations on crimes or crimes against humanity made against these senior military officials are unacceptable and a violation of the principles of natural justice,” she said.

Mendis also called for a recognition of the impact COVID-19 has had on many aspects of governance in many countries across the world including Sri Lanka.

“We hope that this council would appreciate that Sri Lanka while successfully containing the spread of COVID-19 through a balanced, multi-sectoral approach, and despite this challenge, held its commitment to the democratic processes, and conducted parliamentary elections successfully and peacefully, last month, which the EU has acknowledged,” she said.

Among other areas that came under Bachelet’s criticism on Monday was an alleged surveillance and intimidation of victims, their families, human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers. She called for an immediate end to such activities.

In response, Mendis said in her speech yesterday that the government has already publicly refuted these allegations and is committed to protecting and promoting freedom of expression and civil society space, and ensure that complaints received on alleged attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and civil society are investigated and prosecuted.

“The prime focus of this government is to ensure national security, and to uphold the rule of law and order in the country for all its citizens, with the aim of creating ‘an environment where any citizen can live freely without any fear for the safety of themselves and their families,” said Mendis.

“In line with the above policy framework, the government is committed to achieve the sustainable development goals of the UN, with a determination to uplift the lives of all its citizens and ensure that there is no threat to peace, reconciliation or development in Sri Lanka,” she added. (Colombo/Sep16/2020)

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