The report recognises and welcomes improvements in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, while also emphasising the need for further progress. Sri Lanka is one of 30 ‘Human Rights Priority Countries’ (HRPCs), countries with which the UK looks for positive engagement that contributes to addressing human rights concerns.
The report notes that intercommunal tensions remain an area of concern. The High Commission notes that these tensions have subsequently escalated in 2017 and hopes that calls to address hate speech as seriously as the problem merits will be heeded.
The UK Government has pledged £6.6m in the period 2016 – 2019 to continue support for reconciliation and human rights. Work with the Government of Sri Lanka will aim to continue to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, and to share UK experience and expertise.
The Report reflects the UK’s desire to work positively with countries facing human rights challenges to help them improve their human rights performance.
The 30 HRPCs are: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Maldives, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
The human rights situation in Sri Lanka saw some improvement in 2016. The Government of Sri Lanka made progress against some of its commitments reflected in UN Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution 30/1, but much remains to be done. The UK welcomed the passing of legislation establishing an Office of Missing Persons (OMP). This was an important step towards reconciliation, although it is yet to come into operation. A constitutional reform process is underway. It is hoped that this will address issues of devolution and introduce a Bill of Rights. The Sri Lankan Government is committed to repealing the much criticised Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and is drafting new counter-terrorism legislation which it intends will be compliant with international human rights standards. These would be important steps in removing historic grievances and strengthening human rights and the rule of law in Sri Lanka.
The government announced further land releases in 2016. While the military maintained a significant presence in the north, the lower profile it took was generally welcomed. The UK has consistently called for the acceleration of land releases and the demilitarisation of the north. Some prisoners held under the existing PTA were released, though many remain in detention without charge. Reports of surveillance, intimidation and harassment by the security forces continued in the north and east, although at much lower levels than under the previous government. Intercommunal tensions remained an area of concern. Tensions were fuelled by hate speech by members of extremist nationalist groups. Sri Lanka continued to engage with the UN and invited a number of UN experts to visit the country, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. He reported full cooperation by the government, but raised concerns about the standard of detention centres and continued cases of torture.
Discrimination against LGB&T persons remained a problem, with a report from Human Rights Watch highlighting that transgender people, and others who did not conform to social expectations about gender, faced discrimination, abuse and mistreatment.
The UK continued to support Sri Lankan Government efforts to develop a more capable, professional and accountable police force, with the aim of reducing the risk of human rights violations, including torture, and improving public confidence in the rule of law. The UK also provided support for the UN’s work on reconciliation and peace building, and demining in the north. The then FCO Minister for Human Rights and the Commonwealth, Baroness Anelay, visited Sri Lanka in November and underlined the UK’s commitment to support reconciliation and accountability. The minister also highlighted UK work to help tackle sexual and gender-based violence in Sri Lanka and the importance of accountability and tackling the stigma suffered by victims. She welcomed the Sri Lankan Government’s endorsement of the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict earlier in the year.
In 2017, the UK will continue to support and encourage Sri Lanka to make further and faster progress on human rights. We will continue to work with the Sri Lankan Government, international partners and civil society to support delivery of the commitments that Sri Lanka has made to promote accountability, reconciliation and human rights and look forward to the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka’s progress before the HRC in March 2017.