UNHRC high commissioner “regrets” new govt’s approach, questions CoI

Calling into question the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to internally investigate alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged the council to remain alert.

“Systemic barriers that continue to exist within the criminal justice system remain an impediment to real justice. Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur,” she said.

Bachelet said she regrets the new government’s “very different approach” to the commitments previously made in the UNHRC resolution 30/1 which she said risks setting back efforts to advance reconciliation, accountability and human rights.

“The state must work for all its people and the needs of all communities, particularly the minorities, must be acknowledged and addressed. I urge the government to preserve and build upon the gains which have been made over the last few years. In particular, I encourage the government to ensure the Office on Missing Persons and the Office of Reparations are provided with political and resource support. The families of missing persons from all communities deserve justice and redress,” said Bachelet.

Noting that Sri Lanka’s independent institutions strengthened under the 19th constitutional amendment are a key pillar in its democratic structure, Bachelet said the space for civil society and independent media should be protected.

“I am therefore troubled by the recent trend towards moving civilian functions under the Ministry of Defence or retired military officers, and renewed reports of surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and victims. The increasing levels of hate speech and security and policy measures that appear to be discriminately and disproportionately directed against minorities, both Tamil and Muslim,” she added.

Bachelet noted with concern that Sri Lanka has still not addressed impunity for alleged violations of the past, nor undertaken the security sector reforms needed to address their drivers and enablers.

“I urge the Council to remain alert to this situation in terms of prevention and to explore all possible avenues for advancing accountability,” she added.