March 3, 2017
Sri Lanka: UN Official Calls Progress ‘Worryingly Slow’
Human Rights Council Should Monitor Undertakings, Justice Efforts
High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein acknowledged certain positive developments, but said that the government failed to adopt a time-bound “comprehensive strategy on transitional justice,” and called on the council to continue monitoring Sri Lankan compliance with resolution 30/1 of October 2015.
“The UN high commissioner paints a picture that is in stark contrast to the rosy claims of the Sri Lankan government,” said John Fisher, Geneva director. “Zeid’s report bolsters findings by UN independent experts and Sri Lankan rights groups that meaningful government action is needed, particularly on accountability and justice.”
The high commissioner’s report expressed particular concern that the government had not even begun preparatory work on establishing a judicial mechanism with foreign judges and other judicial officers, one of the four transitional justice mechanisms under the resolution. Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations have cited presidential statements in opposition to that undertaking as evidence of the government’s unwillingness to create a court that would try serious crimes committed by both sides in the country’s 27-year-long civil war, which ended in 2009.
The report also raised other human rights issues in Sri Lanka, including the wide use of torture and the lack of security sector reform, notably the failure to repeal the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act. It highlights the government’s poor record in investigating and prosecuting emblematic cases of killings, enforced disappearances, and torture during and since the armed conflict, and in bringing an end to longstanding impunity.
The high commissioner’s report notes progress on public consultations involving constitutional reforms and transitional justice. However, it strongly recommends that the government “embrace” the report of the government-appointed transitional justice Consultation Task Force, which calls for a hybrid judicial mechanism based on wide-reaching consultations across all communities. Human Rights Watch and others have pointed out the government’s disregard for the task force in Sri Lanka even while it takes credit for its report in Geneva and other international forums.
“The high commissioner’s report spotlights just how far there is to go before the promise of reconciliation, justice, and reform in Sri Lanka becomes a reality,” Fisher said. “The Human Rights Council needs to engage meaningfully with both the high commissioner’s report and the Consultation Task Force report, and adopt a substantive resolution to urge acceptance of its recommendations, request an implementation timetable, and ensure continued international scrutiny until the Sri Lankan government delivers on its commitments in full.”