Bachelet concerns: HRCSL to discuss with Govt. delegation

By Ruwan Laknath Jayakody


The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) will discuss the serious human rights-related concerns raised by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), led by Michelle Bachelet, once the government delegation to Geneva is finalised.

HRCSL Chairperson Jagath Balasuriya told The Morning yesterday (28) that the HRCSL does not yet know as to who would comprise the delegation led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make its way to the 46th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, which is to commence next month.

“Once we know the constituency and the membership of the delegation, we can discuss the situation,” Balasuriya added.

The report by Bachelet on “Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability, and Human Rights in Sri Lanka” has dealt with emerging threats to reconciliation, accountability, and human rights. The specific threats mentioned include the increased militarisation of civilian government functions and the State, the reversal of constitutional safeguards, the political obstruction of accountability for crimes and human rights violations, majoritarian and exclusionary rhetoric, the surveillance and intimidation of the civil society, and the shrinking democratic space.

Additionally, the report has dealt with the assessment of the implementation of UNHRC Resolution 30/1, including on transitional justice and confidence-building measures as well as impunity in emblematic cases.

The incumbent Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)-led Government informed the UNHRC of their withdrawal of the co-sponsorship of the said Resolution and two subsequent resolutions which had been co-sponsored by the previous United National Front (UNF)-led Government.

“Nearly 12 years on from the end of the war, domestic initiatives for accountability and reconciliation have repeatedly failed to produce results, more deeply entrenching impunity and exacerbating victims’ distrust in the system. Sri Lanka remains in a state of denial about the past, with truth-seeking efforts aborted and the highest state officials refusing to make any acknowledgement of past crimes. The failure to implement any vetting or comprehensive reforms in the security sector means that the state apparatus and some of its members credibly implicated in the alleged grave crimes and human rights violations remain in place. The 2015 reforms that offered more checks and balances on Executive power have been rolled back, eroding the independence of the Judiciary and other key institutions further. The beginnings of a more inclusive national discourse that promised greater recognition and respect of and reconciliation with minority communities have been reversed. Far from achieving the ‘guarantees of non-recurrence’ promised by Resolution 30/1, Sri Lanka’s current trajectory sets the scene for the recurrence of the policies and practices that gave rise to grave human rights violations,” the report concludes.

Bachelet has also expressed deep concern over the trends emerging over the past year, which represent, according to the report, clear early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation and a significantly heightened risk of future violations.

Also, Bachelet expressed alarm over the space afforded for civil society, including the independent media, rapidly shrinking due to surveillance, including intimidating visits by state agents and harassment against human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, social actors, and victims of human rights violations and their families, as well as the imposition of restrictive legal measures on legitimate civil society activity.

“Tamil and Muslim minorities are being increasingly marginalised and excluded from the national vision and government policy, while divisive and discriminatory rhetoric from the highest state officials risks generating further polarisation and violence. The Government has appointed active and former military personnel, including those credibly implicated in war crimes, to key positions in the civilian administration and created parallel task forces and commissions that encroach on civilian functions. Combined with the reversal of important institutional checks and balances on the Executive by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, this trend threatens democratic gains.

“The Government has now demonstrated its inability and unwillingness to pursue a meaningful path towards accountability for international crimes and serious human rights violations, and signalled instead a fundamentally different approach which threatens to deny victims their rights to truth and justice and further entrench impunity. By withdrawing its support for Resolution 30/1 and related measures, and by repeatedly failing to undertake meaningful action across the full scope of that Resolution, the Government has largely closed the possibility of genuine progress being made to end impunity through a domestic transitional justice process.”

Therefore, she called for strong preventive action, stating that it is vital that the UNHRC takes further action on Sri Lanka. Bachelet called on the UNHRC to set out a coherent and effective plan to advance accountability options at the international level.

“Member states have a number of options to advance criminal accountability and provide measures of redress for victims. In addition to taking steps towards the referral of the situation in Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court, Member States can actively pursue the investigation and prosecution of international crimes committed by all parties in Sri Lanka before their own national courts, including under the accepted principles of extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction. Member States can also apply targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans against state officials and other actors credibly alleged to have committed or be responsible for grave human rights violations or abuses.”

Meanwhile, Bachelet recommended that the Government of Sri Lanka ensure that constitutional and legislative reforms address recommendations made by UN human rights mechanisms and the resolutions of the UNHRC; order all security agencies to immediately end all forms of surveillance and harassment of and reprisals against human rights defenders, social actors, and victims of human rights violations; promptly, thoroughly, and impartially investigate and prosecute all allegations of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including torture and ill-treatment, and give the highest priority to ensuring accountability in longstanding emblematic cases; remove from office security personnel and other public officials credibly implicated in human rights violations, in compliance with human rights standards; implement other reforms of the security sector to strengthen and ensure accountability and civilian oversight; establish a moratorium on the use of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act for new arrests until it is replaced by legislation that adheres to international best practices; and establish standard procedures for granting pardons or other forms of clemency by the President, including subjecting it to judicial review, and excluding grave human rights and international humanitarian law violations.

The upcoming UNHRC session is to commence on 22 February and go on till 19 March.