Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented his report pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 on Sri Lanka, saying there were some positive advances in some areas, yet noting that progress to establish transitional justice mechanisms had been slow. A number of measures must be accelerated, including the repeal of the prevention of terrorism act and the design of truth and reparation processes. Continuing unwillingness or inability to address impunity reinforced the need for international participation in a judicial mechanism. That mechanism should include a special counsel, foreign judges and defence lawyers, and authorised prosecutors and investigators. At the centre of all of the efforts were the victims: there could never be sustainable peace without justice for them.
Sri Lanka reiterated its resolve and commitment to the reconciliation process and announced it planned to co-sponsor the resolution on Sri Lanka, which included a two-year extension for the timeline for the implementation of its commitments. Sri Lanka expressed its commitment to continue its engagement for the benefit of its people, working to promote and protect human rights. It recognised the need to strengthen its institutions and achieve economic progress. It affirmed the country’s firm position to enhance the fundamental rights of all the citizens as equals in a free and democratic country, where the reconciliation process recognised the impact of conflict on all citizens, independently of their origin or status.
During the ensuing discussion, delegates acknowledged progress made by Sri Lanka toward implementing its key human rights, justice, and reconciliation commitments, while also pointing out numerous outstanding challenges remaining, such as ending torture and sexual and gender-based violence. Several delegations urged Sri Lanka to take action as regards the prevention of terrorism act. They also said that strengthening the rule of law was another area that should be prioritised. The importance of the international community’s continued support to Sri Lanka was underscored by several delegations. Many addressed the issue of transitional justice and expressed concern about the slow pace with which it was being implemented.
Delegates of the European Union, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Montenegro, Denmark, France, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom, China, Pakistan, New Zealand, United States, Estonia, Sudan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Norway, Ireland, Spain, United Nations Children’s Fund, Belgium, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Ghana, Maldives and Bangladesh also addressed the sessions.
The following civil society organisations Tourner la page, International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Minority Rights Group, Franciscans International, and Amnesty International also participated .
The United States while commending Sri Lanka for the important steps taken since 2015, toward implementing its key human rights, justice, and reconciliation commitments, suggested the government to make public a strategy and timetable for implementation of the reforms and commitments outlined in the UN Resolution 30/1.
Delivering a statement during the Interactive Dialogue on Sri Lanka at the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday in Geneva, Head of U.S. Delegation William J. Mozdzierz particularly commended the government’s public consultations with civil society and victims across Sri Lanka.
The U.S. official also recognised the joint efforts of President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, and Opposition Leader Sampanthan in drafting a new, more inclusive and democratic constitution, passing legislation to establish an Office of Missing Persons, and ratifying the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.
Noting that the reconciliation processes are complex, Mozdzierz said the Council hoped to see greater and more sustained progress over the past 18 months.
“While over 4,500 acres of land have been returned to private owners, many thousands of acres seized during the conflict period remain under military control. While arbitrary and illegal actions by security officials appear vastly reduced from the number reported during the previous government, we are concerned by reports of continued arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence, and harassment by security officials,” the official highlighted.
He said the Government statements against international participation in any future Sri Lankan judicial mechanism raise understandable concerns among victims and families about the integrity of any judicial process.
“Yet lasting peace requires that the government remain committed in word and deed to implementing its international commitments fully,” he said and added “Therefore, we encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to make public a strategy and timetable for implementation of the reforms and commitments outlined in this Councils Resolution 30/1.”
The U.S. underscored that the priorities should be reforming the constitution, operationalising the Office of Missing Persons, passing new counter terrorism legislation, establishing a truth commission, continuing releases of military-occupied land, and implementing fully all outstanding international commitments.
The U.S. said it looks forward to continued close engagement with the Government of Sri Lanka on these processes to achieve lasting peace
Issuing a statement the UK joined the High Commissioner for Human Rights in recognizing the steps taken by the Sri Lankan Government since January 2015 to improve the human rights situation in the country.
However, the UK said as the High Commissioner’s report clearly states, much remains to be done and urged the government to “provide the determined leadership required to deliver fully on the commitments it made when co-sponsoring resolution 30/01 and to develop a comprehensive and time bound implementation strategy.” The UK called for the Government to provide the determined leadership required to deliver fully on the commitments it made when co-sponsoring resolution 30/01 and to develop a comprehensive and time bound implementation strategy. In particular, we encourage the Government to deliver meaningful devolution through constitutional reform, establish credible transitional justice mechanisms, return all remaining military-held private land and replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act with human rights compliant legislation.