Sri Lanka at critical juncture: UN report urges progress on accountability, institutional and security sector reforms

Geneva, 6 Sept, 2022.- Sri Lanka’s new Government should embark on a national dialogue to advance human rights and reconciliation, a UN report urges today, calling for accountability and deeper institutional reforms to prevent a recurrence of past violations.

The report acknowledges that Sri Lanka is at critical juncture in its political life, and is in the midst of a serious economic crisis which has severely impacted the human rights of all communities and people of all walks of life. This has spurred broad-based demands by Sri Lankans from all communities for deeper reforms and accountability, and gives the Government a fresh opportunity to steer the country on a new path.

For sustainable improvements to take place, however, it is vital to recognise and address the underlying factors which have contributed to the economic crisis, including embedded impunity for past and present human rights violations, economic crimes and endemic corruption.

“Fundamental changes will be required to address the current challenges and to avoid repetition of the human rights violations of the past,” says the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The report calls on the Government to immediately end the reliance on draconian security laws and crackdowns on peaceful protest, reverse the drift towards militarisation and show renewed commitment to, and deliver on, security sector reform and ending impunity.

While the security forces recently showed considerable restraint in response to mass protests, the Government has since taken a harder line approach, arresting some student leaders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and violently suppressing peaceful protests. A heavily militarised environment and culture of surveillance also continues in the north and east of the country.

The report urges the new Government to re-launch a comprehensive and victim-centred strategy on transitional justice and accountability, with a time-bound plan to implement outstanding commitments, including taking steps in relation to the establishment of a credible truth-seeking mechanism and an ad hoc special court. Victims must be given a central role in the design and implementation of all accountability and transitional justice mechanisms.

Expressing concern about the lack of progress to establish the truth about the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019, the report also calls for a follow-up independent and transparent investigation, with international assistance and the full participation of victims and their representatives, to pursue further lines of inquiry.

“The Sri Lankan State, including through successive governments, has consistently failed to pursue an effective transitional justice process to hold perpetrators of gross human rights violations and abuses accountable and uphold victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations,” the report states.

“Rather, they have created political obstacles to accountability, and actively promoted and incorporated some military officials credibly implicated in alleged war crimes into the highest levels of government.”

In the absence of progress towards accountability at the national level, the report urges other States to cooperate in accountability efforts, including by using available avenues of extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction, to investigate and prosecute crimes under international law committed in Sri Lanka.

Additionally, the report urges States to explore further measures targeting those who are credibly alleged to have been responsible for gross violations and abuses of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law.

The report outlines the progress of the OHCHR work on accountability, pursuant to Council resolution 46/1, and calls for reinforcement of its capacity.

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