Sri Lanka’s has failed to fully implement its commitments to ensure accountability for war-time atrocities because of a lack of vision at the highest level of leadership in the county, the UN human rights chief said today.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told the council in Geneva that Colombo cooperated with the UN, but there was very slow progress in delivering the 2015 commitments on accountability.
Sri Lanka’s new government in 2015 promised to ensure an internationally- acceptable judicial mechanism to try war criminals and pay reparations to victims. However, Colombo is yet to set up systems to ensure justice for tens of thousands of civilians killed by both sides of the conflict.
“Implementation of resolution 30/1 (of 2015) needs to be more consistent, comprehensive and accelerated,” Bachelet said in her statement to the council while discussing Sri Lanka.
“A contributing factor to delays appears to be a lack of common vision among the country’s highest leadership.
“Deadlock on these important issues is an additional – and avoidable – problem, with damaging impact currently on victims from all ethnic and religious groups and on society as a whole,” she said.
She said the October coup triggered by President Maithripala Sirisena did not help the cause of implementing reforms.
“The events leading to the declaration of a state of emergency in March last year, and the constitutional crisis in October, created a political environment not conducive to the implementation of reform measures,” she added.
She encouraged Colombo to implement a detailed and comprehensive strategy for the transitional process with a fixed timeline. Legislation on the establishment of an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission could be an important next step, she added.
Sri Lanka is seeking a two-year extension to deliver on what they promised to do by 2017. A two-year extension was secured in March 2017 and that is due to expire this month.
She made it clear that Colombo had dragged its feet without delivering on the key promise of accountability.
“There has been minimal progress on accountability.
“My report details the steps taken over a lengthy period to address several emblematic cases, and the lack of progress in setting up a special judicial mechanism to deal with the worst crimes committed during the 2009 conflict.
“Continuing impunity risks fuelling communal or interethnic violence, and instability. Resolving these cases, and bringing the perpetrators of past crimes to justice, is necessary to restore the confidence of victims from all communities,” she said in her hard hitting speech which also called for security sector reforms.
-Military appointment condemned-
The High Commissioner singled out President Sirisena’s actions in promoting Major General Shavendra Silva as number two in the Sri Lanka army without setting up a mechanism for vetting military at a time when more troops are deployed for UN peace keeping missions.
She stressed that reforms should include a vetting process to remove officers with questionable human rights records.
“The recent appointment to a senior position in the Sri Lankan Army of Major General Shavendra Silva, implicated in alleged serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, is a worrying development,” she added.
She was also troubled by continuing reports of abuses by Sri Lankan security authorities. She called for an end to the surveillance of human rights defenders. She was also worried about President Sirisena’s announcement to end a 43-year moratorium of capital punishment.
“There is an opportunity, now, to leave behind a past of violence and human rights violations, through bold determination and leadership at all levels of government,” she said.