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Bouquets and brickbats: UN Envoy on Human Rights releases Lanka progress report on reconciliation

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Ahead of a resolution on Sri Lanka set to come up for procedural extension at the end of the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a wide-ranging report on the Government’s efforts and challenges to delivering on pledges of reconciliation and justice, a decade after the War ended. 

The High Commissioner in her report notes progress made by the Government on key pledges, including the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons and the setting up of the Office on Reparations and the country’s decision to enact legislation against Enforced Disappearance. 

The High Commissioner also acknowledges the steps taken towards eventual repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act with legislation compatible with the international human rights framework. 

However, as in previous years, the report continues to be critical about Sri Lanka’s failure to deliver justice to thousands of victims of the conflict. 

“Less progress has been observed in the area of criminal accountability. The Government has not announced any plan to create a special judicial mechanism, despite the commitment it implicitly undertook when it co-sponsored Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 and the recommendations contained therein,” the report notes. 

The High Commissioner’s report cites the political crisis that was precipitated with the sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on 26 October 2018 as a reason for some of the delays in implementing the reconciliation processes. “The political crisis at the end of 2018 further obstructed progress owing not only to the temporary paralysis of institutions, but also because it generated fears that another government might not embrace the reconciliation agenda. There were also concerns among key stakeholders that a return to power of the pre-2015 administration could have negative implications for their security and the human rights situation in general,” she notes. 

Attempts at political interference into on-going criminal cases against high profile individuals are also criticised. “On 18 November 2018, in the midst of the political crisis, the officer in charge of the Organised Crime Investigation Unit of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Police, Inspector Nishantha Silva, was transferred by order of the Inspector General of the Police, reportedly on ‘service requirements’. Inspector Silva is the lead investigator in a number of emblematic cases where some progress has been made, such as the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunge, the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda, the abduction of journalist Keith Noyahr, the murder of rugby player Wasim Thajudeen, and the 11 enforced disappearances attributed to Navy intelligence. His transfer at that particular time was perceived as an attempt to prevent further progress in investigations, leading to outcry from victims and other stakeholders, and an appeal to the National Police Commission. Inspector Silva was reinstated on 20 November 2018.”

A draft resolution which calls for further time for Sri Lanka to fully implement its commitments is now in circulation having been discussed at an informal meeting in Geneva on 5 March. The resolution is due to be taken up at the Council on 20 March and the Government has announced it would co-sponsor this ‘roll over’ resolution. 

Unlike the resolutions that were brought against Sri Lanka in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and passed by majority votes, resolution 30/1 was passed through consensus due to Sri Lanka accepting its human rights obligations. 

Meanwhile President Maithripala Sirisena earlier this week announced that he would be sending his own delegation to Geneva in order to argue that the “UN should allow Sri Lanka to resolve its own issues”.

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