UN Human Rights Council urged to be more assertive in its upcoming review of Sri Lanka

The UN Human Rights Council will be reviewing the human rights situation of Sri Lanka during its upcoming session in March. There have been calls by both states and human rights groups – including the United States and Human Rights Watch – for the Council to adopt a stronger, more action-based resolution on Sri Lanka, following what many considered to be a weak approach in the Council’s previous resolution, passed in 2012. Since that resolution, the Government of Sri Lanka has made little effort to implement the recommendations and there continue to be reports of oppression, including enforced disappearances of ethnic minority groups, in particular the Tamil people and Muslim population. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (“LLRC”) was appointed by President Rajapaksa in May 2010 to look into the civil conflict that occurred between the ceasefire signed in 2002 and the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (“LTTE”) in 2009. The Commission’s recommendations released in December 2011 were generally well received; however, the LLRC has been widely criticised for its lack of independence, and there have been widespread calls to launch an independent international accountability process and full investigation into the last stages of the civil conflict where an estimated 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed. Furthermore, the Sri Lankan Government has refused to reply to eight different UN Special Procedures who have requested entrance into the country over the past several years.

In a recent report prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the High Commissioner echoes the requests of civil society and human rights groups urging the Human Rights Council to build on the momentum of the LLRC and the previous HRC resolution towards establishing an independent and meaningful investigation into possible violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. This should include looking into allegations of war crimes, enforced disappearances and missing persons, and holding public trials in due time for Tamils and other individuals currently in detention as a result of the conflict. These and other measures are seen as essential to establishing the truth and ensuring accountability and justice, helping to pave the path towards reconciliation and a peaceful and inclusive future.

Adding to the international pressure, the International Crisis Group has also just issued a report on Sri Lanka urging international action after President Rajapaksa’s government recently impeached the Chief Justice and replaced her with one of the president’s advisors. According to the ICG report, this interference with the judiciary is the latest of a series of moves the government has made to consolidate the power of the executive and weaken the opposition, including revoking presidential term limits. The ICG fears that these measures, added to the lack of power-sharing with minorities and the immobility in implementing LLRC and previous HRC recommendations, are creating a dangerous situation that could reach boiling point if the international community does not act fast.

Alongside this special country review, the UN Human Rights Council is due to consider and adopt the final outcome document of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group’s report on Sri Lanka during the upcoming March session.

Candice Van Doosselaere is a volunteer at the Human Rights Law Centre.