The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) core group on Sri Lanka has expressed concern over what it called the lack of progress with regard to human rights, the rights of religious minorities and other issues highlighted in resolution 46/1.
The core group, comprising, Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi, Montenegro and the UK, has also called for the safety of former Criminal Investigation Department (CID) director Shani Abeysekera’s safety to be ensured. Abeysekara was released on bail on June 16, after the Court of Appeal slammed police for using “concocted stories” to incarcerate their own top detective.
In a statement issued on June 22, the group of countries recalled that UNHRC resolution 46/1 had called on the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to address the harmful legacies of war and to protect human rights including minority religious rights.
“We regret the lack of progress on these issues, with a number of further concerning developments,” the core group said.
On March 23 this year, the UNHRC adopted a resolution on alleged human rights violations by Sri Lanka in the final phase of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) in 2009. Twenty-two out of the 47 UNHRC members voted for the resolution, while only 11 including Russia and China voted against, at the 46th UNHRC session in Geneva. Fourteen member states including India and Japan abstained.
“The Sri Lankan Government has attempted to dismiss a number of emblematic cases and to initiate criminal proceedings against individuals pursuing some of these cases. This counters the council’s call for prompt, thorough and impartial investigations,” the statement said.
“We are deeply concerned about the ongoing use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the recent intention to introduce a rehabilitation process lacking adequate judicial oversight. Human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, and poet and teacher Ahnaf Jazeem, remain detained without trial and further arrests under this Act have continued, including among minority communities and the political opposition,” the core group further said.
The PTA, Abeysekara, Hizbullah and Jazeem were also the focus of a separate resolution adopted on Sri Lanka by the European Parliament on June 10. Calling for the repeal of the PTA, the European Parliament invited the European Union (EU) Commission to consider temporarily withdrawing Sri Lanka’s access to the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) concession.
The UNHRC core group said it encourages Sri Lanka to cooperate with the council and the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in relation to resolution 46/1.
“We remain concerned about the restrictions on memorialization . We join the Bar Association of Sri Lanka in requesting independent and impartial investigations into recent deaths in police custody,” the core group went on to say.
“We are concerned over appointments to the Office on Missing Persons and reiterate the importance of ensuring independent and credible institutions to achieve justice,” it added.
On June 21, speaking at the UNHRC’s 47th session that, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed her concern by further government measures allegedly targeing Muslims in Sri Lanka and an alleged harassment of Tamils including in the context of commemoration events.
“I am concerned that recent appointments to the Office of Missing Persons and Office for Reparations, and steps to discourage investigations into past crimes, are further undermining victims’ trust,” she said – a remark echoed by the core group the following day.
Bachelet said recent counter-terrorism regulations – which include the listing and/or prohibition of more than 300 Tamil and Muslim groups and individuals for alleged support of terrorism – will also not advance reconciliation. Regulations now permit the arbitrary administrative detention of people for up to two years, without trial for the purposes of de-radicalisation, she said.
“I also note a continuing series of deaths in police custody and in the context of police encounters with alleged criminal gangs. A thorough, prompt and independent investigation should be conducted. We will continue to engage with the Government, and I will update the Council further at the September session, including on progress in implementing the new accountability mandate,” she added.