Rights chief calls to keep up with pledges while Sri Lanka plans to snub UN

By Athula Vithanage

The new UN human rights chief expressed her concern on Sri Lanka’s lack of progress in addressing war crimes, while the country’s president has revealed plans to back off from its international human rights commitments.

In her inaugural speech to the top UN rights body, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet emphasized the need for justice as promised by Sri Lanka three years ago.

Sri Lanka has committed itself to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, in a co-sponsored resolution adopted unanimously by the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in October 2015.

Echoing concerns of her predecessor, the high commissioner called upon the government to move forward on accountability and truth seeking. 

“More progress in advancing accountability and truth-seeking could have great weight in the long-term stability and prosperity of the nation,” said High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet.

“Recurrent incidents of racist and inter-communal violence are disturbing, as are announced plans to resume use of the death penalty.”

Saving the military

Two days before the sessions in Geneva, Sri Lanka’s president announced plans to move away from implementing the resolution with the aim of saving the security forces accused of war crimes and mass scale human rights violations.

In his widely broadcast speech, the president was tacitly referring to the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

“I am going to introduce a new resolution at the UN and the UN human rights council on the 24th  mainly to get rid of resolutions and human rights allegations against the security forces, three forces and on the programme we should implement with regard to LTTE terrorists,” President Maithripala Sirisena told party activists in the predominantly Sinhala Nivitigala town.

He is due to address the high-level plenary meeting on global peace in honor of the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York on 24 September.

The government has come under severe criticism from the UN as well as local and international rights bodies for its use of terror laws to disproportionately target Tamils and ex Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) members.

Repeated calls to repeal the PTA used for abduction, detention and torture including sexual violence have been resisted.

Among the tens of thousands disappeared in Sri Lanka, many have been arrested under the PTA.

The high commissioner has expressed hope that the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) will be able to help find the disappeared.

“Although the authorities have moved too slowly towards meaningful implementation of the transitional justice agenda, the Office of Missing Persons has now begun consultations and institutional capacity-building to fulfill its mandate. We look to that Office to work quickly, to begin to provide answers to the families of the disappeared.”

A week ago, the first set of urgent recommendations by the OMP on relief and justice to the disappeared and their relatives was passed on to a ministerial subcommittee by the president.☐



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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