Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka

UNHRC 2    MAHINDA SAMARASINGHE, Minister of Plantation Industries and Special Envoy of the President of Sri Lanka on Human Rights, said that a year after its first Universal Periodic Review in 2008, Sri Lanka had finally achieved success in the humanitarian operation of rescuing the civilian population held by a ruthless group of terrorists. It had engaged since May 2009 in a period of consolidation, removing military involvement in civil administration, reconstruction, demining, rehabilitation and resettlement and had launched initial efforts and national reconciliation and peace-building. Sri Lanka had received a total of 204 recommendations during its second Review and had accepted 113, while 91 recommendations did not enjoy its support; Sri Lanka also made 19 voluntary commitments. Sri Lanka had accepted 12 recommendations specifically referring to the National Action Plan for the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

Turning to the process of accountability, Sri Lanka said that the first issue to be addressed was that of the figures of the civilian victims, which had been repeated by several sources without once verifying the facts. Also, the military authorities had ongoing inquiries on civilian casualties during the humanitarian operation; a database on detainees was available to the next of kin and the investigations into cases of disappearance were ongoing though national mechanisms. The National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights was a commitment that had grown from the initial Review in 2008 and Sri Lanka was currently engaged in the evaluation of the first year of its implementation; the National Plan aimed to consolidate gains and to systematically address the various human rights issues and challenges. Sri Lanka would now have to conceive of a mechanism that would take into consideration the accepted recommendations and pledges made during the second Review. Sri Lanka was confident that by its next Review in 2017 it would be able to demonstrate further progress in the promotion and protection of the human rights of its people.

Oman said that Sri Lanka had accepted most of the recommendations made, which demonstrated its willingness to cooperate with the Council and showed its determination to comply with human rights obligations.

Pakistan said that it was encouraging to see that Sri Lanka had made 19 voluntary commitments, including for the protection of the rights of women and children, the advancement of the reconciliation process, and the reintegration of ex-combatants in society.

Philippines said that Sri Lanka had shown deep commitment to the advancement of human rights. The Philippines welcomed in particular acceptance by Sri Lanka of the recommendation pertaining to the National Action Plan and the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. Concern was expressed at the situation of migrant workers and their families, and the Philippines looked forward to the ratification by Sri Lanka of International Labour Organization Convention 189.

Russia said that Sri Lanka’s second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review had again confirmed its readiness and openness to engage in open dialogue. Sri Lanka had agreed to the majority of recommendations made and those accepted were truly constructive and non-politicised in nature. Russia appreciated Sri Lanka’s list of voluntary commitments on many aspects of human rights.

Sudan said that Sri Lanka had accepted a great number of recommendations, most of which were positive and constructive. Sudan welcomed the acceptance of two recommendations on consolidation of law enforcement and resettlement of internally displaced persons. It was important to create an environment that made it possible for citizens to enjoy their rights.

United Arab Emirates welcomed positive measures undertaken by the Government to implement the recommendations from the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. The United Arab Emirates took note of Sri Lanka’s statement on giving new impetus to the human rights system and promoting human rights. It was fully confident that Sri Lanka would move forward and hoped it would be supported in this.

United Kingdom expressed serious concern about freedom of expression in Sri Lanka and asked why the recommendation to invite the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion to visit the country was rejected. Sri Lanka gave no justification for the rejection of the recommendations relating to the independence of the judiciary. The impeachment of the Chief Justice ran contrary to the clear rulings of Sri Lanka’s highest courts and contravened principles of fairness, due process and respect for the independence of the judiciary.

United States welcomed the acceptance of recommendations to combat gender-based violence and investigate breaches of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The United States was disappointed that Sri Lanka had rejected the implementation of the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and nearly all recommendations to engage with the United Nations Special Procedures mandate holders.

Venezuela welcomed the spirit of openness and cooperation that Sri Lanka had demonstrated in the second Universal Periodic Review process and urged it to implement the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. Venezuela recognized the efforts of Sri Lanka to implement recommendations from its first Review, notably those relating to the improvement of the enjoyment of human rights and those related to peace.

Viet Nam said that serious efforts had been made by Sri Lanka in relation to the national reconstruction and reconciliation process, and noted with satisfaction the ongoing implementation of 19 voluntary commitments made by Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, challenges and hardships remained to be overcome, for which an environment favourable to creating a stable and peaceful Sri Lanka was crucial.

Algeria said that Sri Lanka had actively shown it was willing to further advance human rights by intensifying the policies it was undertaking for the protection of the human rights of women and children in particular.

Belarus commended Sri Lanka on the adoption of a National Action Plan and the measures taken to reform and enhance national legislation, and said that Sri Lanka had shown strong commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights.

China said that it appreciated Sri Lanka’s important achievements in advancing domestic reconciliation. China called on the international community to respect Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, objectively look at its advancements, provide constructive assistance, and avoid interfering in its domestic affairs. China supported the adoption of the outcome.

A member of the delegation of Sri Lanka, in response to a statement made by the United Kingdom with reference to the impeachment of the Chief Justice, stated that the Constitution and procedural matrix involved in the impeachment of judges of the Superior Court was not some process invented on a person-centric, ad hoc manner. In that context it was correct to state that the invocation of that procedure to meet requirements that emerged consequent to facts to the case concerned was justifiable. However, the entire process and a ruling by a division by the Supreme Court on the matter had now been brought under the judicial review.

Human Rights Watch said that Sri Lanka had rejected the recommendations to implement the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. As further evidence of its lack of commitment to accountability, the Government had turned down basic recommendations focusing on the need to end impunity and investigate serious allegations of human rights violations.

World Evangelical Alliance welcomed the acceptance of recommendations to promote reconciliation and inter-religious dialogue, but was puzzled that religious freedom was still an issue in Sri Lanka. In the words of the United Nations Secretary-General, the rule of law was fostered by a strong civil society, practiced tolerance and celebrated diversity. Pluralism was not a problem, it was the solution.

Amnesty International presented the case of Mr. Ragihar Monaharan, one of five university students murdered by Sri Lankan security forces on 2 January in 2006; his family had been forced to flee the country when their lives had been threatened because they sought justice for their son’s murder.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, in a joint statement, said that it was extremely disappointed that Sri Lanka’s recommendations had been amended so that they focused on the National Action Plan, which included only a fraction of the recommendations originally made. The rejection of a large number of recommendations by Sri Lanka, for example to investigate enforced disappearances, demonstrated Sri Lanka’s limited commitment to the reconciliation process.

United Nations Watch said that forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence against women, and restrictions on freedom of expression remained prevalent in Sri Lanka. It was regrettable therefore that Sri Lanka had rejected many valuable recommendations made in that respect. Moreover, attacks on the independence of the judiciary and reported cases of child rape and violence against women were particularly alarming.

International Commission of Jurists said that Sri Lanka had failed to uphold its pledge to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of gross human rights violations during the war. Furthermore, the recent removal of the legal Chief Justice of Sri Lanka through an impeachment process declared unconstitutional by the country’s Supreme Court was particularly alarming. This was the latest in a long series of attacks against the independence of the judiciary.

Action Canada for Population and Development said that it was disappointed with Sri Lanka’s lack of engagement or acceptance of recommendations on non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity. It was also concerned about the lack of response on recommendation 128.24 on decriminalizing homosexual relationships between consenting adults.

Jubilee Campaign expressed grave concern that the period since the end of the war in Sri Lanka had been marked by State-sponsored Sinhala Buddhist triumphalism, the weakening of democratic institutions and the rule of law, the constriction of civil and political rights, abductions and forcible disappearances, and a widespread climate of fear among human rights defenders and journalists.

CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation said that the rejection and delayed implementation of crucial recommendations had shown a lack of commitment to addressing serious human rights concerns. Several prominent human rights activists had been subject to slanderous campaigns instigated by the Sri Lankan Government portraying them as traitors for raising concerns about human rights violations.

Liberation said that the refusal of Sri Lanka to ratify a number of international instruments such as the Rome Statute spoke loudly about its commitment to address accountability and torture in the country. The Human Rights Council should take measures to address accountability and impunity in Sri Lanka, given the evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the lack of will of the Government to address them.

MAHINDA SAMARASINGHE, Minister of Plantation Industries and Special Envoy of the President of Sri Lanka on Human Rights, in his closing remarks, thanked the delegations expressing their support to Sri Lanka and stressed that the conflict was 30 years long and involved ruthless terrorists, causing the suffering of many thousands of people. During this period, many civilians had been murdered by the Tamil Tigers; thousands and thousands of Muslims had been forced out of their homes and Buddhist places of warship had been targeted. All the talk about killings and atrocities must be balanced and include also those committed by the Tamil Tigers. Sri Lanka was diverse society in which freedom of religion or belief was guaranteed and the Government did not condone any attacks on places of worship. The investigation into the death of five university students had commenced; Sri Lanka needed time and space to deal with such gruesome events and with the challenges ahead and had not absolved itself from responsibility. Sri Lanka was committed to achieving national reconciliation and sustainable peace and asked all to be balanced and impartial.

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