Photo courtesy of Global Centre for Responsibility to Protect

International and local human rights advocates urged the UN Human Rights Council’s Core Group for Sri Lanka not to be fooled into presenting a consensual resolution at the forthcoming Human Rights Council sessions that begin later this month.

The Core Group consisting of Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK is responsible for drawing up a new resolution on Sri Lanka to be presented at the sessions.

Addressing a news conference to launch the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on Sri Lanka, “Open Wounds and Mounting Dangers: Blocking Accountability for Grave Abuses in Sri Lanka”, Geneva Director of HRW John Fisher said the situation in Sri Lanka required a strong resolution to make sure there was justice and accountability for past crimes and to prevent a new conflict from emerging.

Mr. Fisher said a strong resolution would also serve as a deterrent to other human rights violators around the world, sending a message that they could not escape their responsibilities.

Referring to the new commission set up by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to examine the evidence of other commissions as a “sham”, HRW’s Executive Director Ken Roth said “Consensus is not working. The government will only respond to pressure,” citing the recent report of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which cited universal jurisdiction where officials could be charged for serious international crimes when they travelled to another country, travel bans and sanctions as some of the measures that could be imposed on the government.

Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, also urged the core group to present a strong resolution, pointing out that the Rajapaksa regime saw kindness as weakness and had no interest moving ahead with human rights. On the contrary, the regime was consolidating themselves in power and relying on the military as its key domestic constituency, he said.

“Sri Lanka stands at the cusp where human rights are going to be discarded and there is a culture of impunity for past violations,” he said, adding that if Sri Lanka had dealt with these issues there would be no need for the international community’s involvement.

South Asia Director of HRW, Meenakshi Ganguly, said HRW had documented crimes by both sides in the conflict. President Rajapaksa, who had been Defense Secretary at the end of the war in 2019, has defended military officers accused of war crimes and condemned any action to hold them accountable. In fact some of them had been appointed to posts within the government, she pointed out

Ms. Ganguly said that victims in Sri Lanka depended on the Geneva process to bring them justice, especially the families of the disappeared, because numerous commissions and other domestic mechanisms had failed to deliver. She said that leaders of the LTTE such as Karuna were not held accountable for their actions but were made allies of the Rajapaksa government.

“Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the defense secretary in the government led by his brother President Mahinda Rajapaksa between 2005 and 2015, had direct responsibility for the conduct of government forces, which committed numerous war crimes, including indiscriminate attacks, summary executions, and rape.

“Since being elected president in November 2019 he has appointed people implicated in war crimes and other serious violations to senior administration positions. He disavowed Sri Lanka’s obligations to promote truth, justice, and reparations under the Human Rights Council’s landmark 2015 resolution as an attack on the country’s “war heroes.” And he pardoned one of the very few soldiers ever convicted of abuses,” the HRW report said.

Answering a question about what would happen if Sri Lanka pulled out of the HRC, Mr. Fisher said the Council would continue with its mandate and put pressure on the government to face up to its responsibilities.

“If the government walks away it will be a great miscalculation and error in terms of international commitments. We are a member of international community and we can’t cherry pick what commitments we adhere to,” Dr. Saravanamuttu stressed.

Asked what people in Sri Lanka could do to help in the process, Dr. Saravanamuttu said it was important to collect evidence of crimes, archive it and keep it for future use, adding that the international community should not “drop the ball” when it came to keeping up the pressure on the government and maintaining human rights protection on international agenda.

Read the full report here: