GoSL opposes ‘polarising’ UNHRC initiative 

  • GL informs of rejection of Resolution 46/1 
  • Claims domestic processes underway 

BY Pamodi Waravita 

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, addressing the 48th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday (14) via online technology, said that the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) rejects any external initiatives established by Resolution 46/1, which was adopted at the Council earlier this year, as it will polarise the Sri Lankan society.

“We reject the proposal for any external initiatives purportedly established by Resolution 46/1 while domestic processes are vigorously addressing the relevant matters. This will polarise our society, as we experienced with Resolution 30/1,” said Prof. Peiris.

Resolution 30/1 was adopted in 2015 by the UNHRC, during the tenure of late Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. The previous United National Front (UNF)-led Government co-sponsored this Resolution and agreed to establish a judicial process which would include foreign legal personnel to promote reconciliation and accountability on human rights violations which allegedly occurred during the civil war years. However, this judicial mechanism was not established and the Resolution received severe criticism from various parties within the country.

Prof. Peiris yesterday told the Council that it must adhere to its founding principles and said that external initiatives embarked without the co-operation of the relevant State in question cannot achieve their goals and are subject to politicisation.

He added that resources spent on the Sri Lankan initiative are unwarranted, especially when taking into consideration the “urgent need for humanitarian and other constructive purposes in many parts of the world”. 

Earlier this year, the UNHRC passed Resolution 46/1, which recognises the importance of preserving evidence relating to alleged violations of human rights in Sri Lanka in order to advance accountability, and as such, a call has been made to implement an “evidence preserving” mechanism in the country. It was adopted on 23 March at the UNHRC with 22 votes in favour of it and 11 votes in opposition while 14 Member States abstained from voting. 

In her oral update on 13 September, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that her Office has already developed an information and evidence repository of nearly 120,000 individual items which are already held by the UN, and that they will begin information gathering as much as possible this year.

She further raised concerns on the new State emergency regulations that were imposed at the end of August “amid a deepening recession”, and stressed that her Office would be closely monitoring their application since they have the potential to “further expand the role of the military in civilian functions”.

However, Prof. Peiris said yesterday that under the pressing challenges that have arisen as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, “it is a basic duty of a Government to ensure the uninterrupted supply of commodities essential to the life of the community”. 

“We are open in acknowledging our challenges, and as a responsible and democratic Government, we are committed to achieving tangible progress on the entire range of issues relating to accountability, reconciliation, human rights, peace and sustainable development,” he added.

Furthermore, Bachelet focused on the continued detention of Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah and poet Ahnaf Jazeem under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, No. 48 of 1979, and urged an immediate moratorium on its use, adding that a clear timeline needs to be formulated for its comprehensive review or repeal. 

Prof. Peiris said yesterday that the Cabinet Sub-Committee appointed to revisit the PTA to bring it in line with international norms will submit its report to the Cabinet of Ministers at the end of this month.

“An Advisory Board was appointed to look into cases of detention under the PTA and to make recommendations to deal with such cases expeditiously. The speedy disposal of cases under the PTA is also taking place,” he added. 

Prof. Peiris further expanded on the other domestic processes implemented by the GoSL in ensuring accountability and moving forward on reconciliation.

“The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) is finalising the list of missing persons in collaboration with other agencies. The Office for Reparations (OR) has processed 3,775 claims this year. The Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) continues its eight point action plan. The National Human Rights Commission is carrying out its mandate. A Commission of Inquiry (CoI) headed by a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court was established to address issues on accountability and missing persons and to revisit recommendations by previous Commissions. The CoI submitted its Interim report to the President. The final report will be submitted within the next six months.” 

Various civil society groups, including the Association of the Relatives of the Disappeared (North and East), wrote to Bachelet in the past few weeks about the ineffectiveness of the OMP in investigating incidents of enforced disappearances, especially those during the civil war years, and Bachelet stressed on 13 September that the OMP needs to inspire confidence among victims.

Prof. Peiris claimed that in the 12 years since Sri Lanka eradicated the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organisation, peace, stability and security has been restored, and the country has continuously adhered to democratic traditions.

“We held firm to our democratic traditions and elections were held at regular intervals with high levels of voter participation – most recently at the 2019 Presidential and 2020 Parliamentary Polls. The Government is committed to holding the Provincial Councils (PCs) Elections at the earliest. We are dealing with post-conflict recovery from the perspective of healing. Most recently, 16 LTTE cadres convicted of serious terrorist crimes were granted Presidential pardons. The success of post-conflict demining, reconstruction and resettlement programmes has contributed immensely to national reconciliation.”