We, Sri Lankan civil society organisations, welcome the country visit of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanetham Pillay, in the preparation of an oral update at the 24th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) and a comprehensive report at the 25th session of the UN HRC, on the implementation of its resolutions on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.
We are concerned at the selective adoption and laggardly implementation of the constructive recommendations contained in the final report of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) appointed Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), including the need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, the demilitarization of the North, the setting up ofimpartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, re-evaluation of detention policies and strengthening of formerly independent civil institutions. The LLRC recommendations
The GoSL recently announced that it would add a further 53 recommendations of LLRC to its National Plan of Action to implement the Recommendations of the LLRC (NPoA LLRC). We are deeply concerned that ongoing state policies and actions in the North and East are contrary to the letter and spirit of the LLRC recommendations and are impediments to reconciliation and the transition from post-war to post-conflict in Sri Lanka. We recall that UN HRC Resolution A/HRC/RES/19/2 of 22 March 2012 (and UN HRC Resolution A/HRC/RES/22/1) called upon the GoSL to take all necessary steps to conduct “an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable”. Furthermore in the context of the abrupt termination of previous government-appointed commissions
into serious violations of human rights and non-disclosure of their recommendations (See Annex 2); and the absence of witness and victim protection legislation and mechanisms, we are not confident that the Commission to Investigate Missing Persons appointed on the eve of the High Commissioner’s visit can conduct its inquiries into disappearances in the North and East in an independent and credible manner.
The most serious of these incidents include, the attack on the FreeTrade Zone workers engaged in protest in May 2011 (which resulted in the killing of one person), the attack on the protest by Fishermen in Chilaw in February 2012 (which resulted in the killing of one person), the November 2012 attacks on and harassment and intimidation of Jaffna University students engaged in peaceful commemoration of the
We reiterate that these continuing violations and the continued culture of impunity is a direct result of the Sri Lankan state’s inability and unwillingness to ensure accountability for violations of human rights in the past. We further state that independent and credible investigations of past violations are an essential pre requisite to ensure the revival of the rule of law and protection of human rights in Sri Lanka.
This statement is symptomatic of the lack of resolve on the part of the GoSL to ensure accountability for serious violations of human rights and its continued tolerance of such violations.
It is further noted that the GoSL has failed to implement simple measures such as publicizing a list of detainees and of detention centers. The issue of unofficial detention centers also remains unaddressed. The GoSL reported to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process in 2012 that it submitted responses on 59 cases of disappearances of the cases brought to its attention by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID). In several instances the case numbers given in the GoSL response were false.
Collective campaigning on the issue of enforced disappearances has also been prevented. Some families have reported that they have been forced to accept death certificates in the name of their disappeared family members. The independence of the judiciary was further undermined by the appointment as the 44th Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, an individual who was formally the legal adviser to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and subsequently the Cabinet of Ministers. appointment.
The passage of the 18th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution hastened the collapse of formerly independent civil institutions including Sri Lanka’s policing system, the public service commission, the election commission, the commission to investigate allegations of bribery and corruption, and the Attorney General’s department. We demand action by the government to uphold the principles that discrimination and violence have no place in post-war Sri Lanka, and call for swift and impartial action by law enforcement agencies to pre-empt mob violence and protect Muslim and Christian religious centres under siege by ultranationalist Sinhala Buddhist groups.
We note with concern the allegations by all main opposition political parties on the use of the armed forces to campaign for candidates of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance and to intimidate candidates of opposition political parties. We draw attention to threats to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka including repeated violence on the staff and property of independent media institutions such as the Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna and the continued culture of self-censorship, particularly in the Sinhala and English-language media, as a result of such previous violence on media institutions. Space for Civil society organisations has not enlarged since the end of the war and there is increased surveillance of civil society activities especially but not confined to the North and the East. It is the responsibility of the GoSL to create an environment, conducive for the flourishing of civil society including groups and individuals promoting respect for human rights. Instead, state media regularly engages in hate mongering and stigmatisation of human rights defenders particularly around sessions of the UN HRC.
Hate mongering and stigmatisation is also of particular concern in relation to Human Rights Defenders working for LGBT rights. We note with concern the attempts under way to strengthen the control of the MoD over civil society organizations by introducing new legislation which would make it mandatory for all civil society organizations to register with the National Secretariat for Non Governmental organizations which is under the direct control of the MoD. Public statements by senior MoD officials have indicated that non registration would lead to these civil society organisations not been allowed to operate within Sri Lanka. It is clear that this is an attempt by the GoSL to stamp out the last remaining vestiges of dissent within Sri Lanka. The limited space available for civil society organizations is evinced by
The status of women in Sri Lanka is reflected in the unequal patterns of land ownership, access to credit, low labour force participation rate of women (of around 32 percent), and the dismal representation in the structures of governance (is less than 6 percent in parliament, below 3 percent in local government bodies). Strong rates of economic growth have not translated into reductions in income inequality as the poorest 20 percent of Sri Lankans account for only 4.5 percent of national income whereas the richest 20 percent account for 54 percent of income.
We call upon the GoSL to rigorously implement the recommendations of the UPR process, Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures towards ensuring a strong and inclusive human rights protection system for the benefit of all Sri Lankans.
We call upon the GoSL to ratify the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Second Optional Protocol to the Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and to incorporate the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners in domestic law and policy.
We call upon the GoSL to seek and accept the advice and technical assistance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in taking forward the recommendations of the UN HRC.