UN Rights Chief raises concerns in Sri Lanka report

Michelle Bachelet

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet yesterday (13) raised concerns regarding the judicial proceedings in a number of emblematic human rights cases in Sri Lanka including that of former Navy commander Wasantha Karannagoda in the case of enforced disappearances of 11 men in 2008 and 2009, where the Attorney General’s decision did not to proceed with charges against him.

She emphasised that despite Sri Lanka’s President’s recent meeting with some civil society leaders, the surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared have not only continued but have broadened to include a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of Government policies and several peaceful protests and commemorations have been met with excessive force and arrest or detention of demonstrators in quarantine centres.

In her report at the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council Geneva yesterday she also said her Office’s work to implement the accountability-related aspects of Resolution 46/1 on Sri Lanka have begun.

She added that the pending recruitment of a start-up team and development of an information and evidence repository with nearly 120,000 individual items had already been initiated by the UN and will initiate as much information-gathering as possible this year and urged Member States to ensure the budget process provides the necessary support, so that her Office can fully implement the work and encouraged Council Members to continue paying close attention to developments in Sri Lanka, and seek credible progress in advancing reconciliation, accountability and human rights.

Bachelet also acknowledged the inputs sent by the Government in preparation for their updates where the President of Sri Lanka’s statement in June that the Government is ‘committed to working with the UN to ensure accountability and will implement ‘necessary institutional reforms, and added that the current social, economic and governance challenges faced by Sri Lanka indicate the corrosive impact that militarisation and lack of accountability continue to have on fundamental rights, civic space, democratic institutions, social cohesion and sustainable development.

“I am looking forward to seeing concrete actions to this effect – in line with the recommendations that have been made in our reports and by various human rights mechanisms – and my Office stands ready to engage,” she added.

She also encouraged the swift and public release of the reports of the National Commission of Inquiry that was appointed in January 2021, that she understands will complete its mandate by the end of this year, so that its work and recommendations can be assessed. Speaking on the current state of emergency that was declared in Sri Lanka on 30 August, she underlined that the regulations are very broad and may further expand the role of the military in civilian functions.

She said her Office will be closely monitoring their application as well. She reiterated that despite various inquiries, the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019 and religious leaders continue to call urgently for truth and justice and for a full account of the circumstances that permitted those attacks. “I am deeply concerned about further deaths in Police custody, and in the context of Police encounters with alleged drug criminal gangs, as well as continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials,” she pointed out.

Bachelet said 16 prisoners convicted under the problematic Prevention of Terrorism Act and nearing the end of their sentences, were pardoned in June but added that she is concerned about the continued use of the Act to arrest and detain people and recalled that lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah has now been detained for 16 months under the Act without credible evidence presented before a Court.

Likewise she mentioned Ahnaf Jazeem, a teacher and poet, has been detained without charge since May 2020 and urged for an immediate moratorium on the use of the Act and a clear timeline is set for its comprehensive review or repeal. On the Office of Missing Persons, she said the Government should inspire confidence among victims.

“I stress again the importance of transparent, victim-centred and gender sensitive approaches and those reparations programmes must be accompanied by broader truth and justice measures”.

(Source: Ceylon Today – By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan)