United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, yesterday told the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council that she didn’t believe that appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry by the Sri Lankan government would address impunity for past violations.
On Wednesday Minister of Foreign Affairs Dinesh Gunawardena said that the government would appoint a Commission of Inquiry (COI) headed by a Justice of the Supreme Court, to review the reports of previous Sri Lankan COIs, which investigated alleged violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (IHL), to assess the status of implementation of their recommendations and to propose deliverable measures to implement them keeping in line with the new Government’s policy
“The fundamental problem remains that Sri Lanka has still not addressed impunity for past violations, nor undertaken the security sector reforms needed to address their drivers and enablers. Systemic barriers that continue to exist within the criminal justice system remain an impediment to real justice. Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur,” Bachelet said.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed regret that the new Government’s approach to the commitments previously made. This change risks setting back efforts to advance reconciliation, accountability and human rights.
She said that the State should work for all its people and the needs of all communities, particularly the minorities, should be acknowledged and addressed.
“I urge the Government to preserve and build upon the gains which have been made over the last few years. In particular, I encourage the Government to ensure the Office on Missing Persons and the Office of Reparations are provided with political and resource support. The families of missing persons from all communities deserve justice and redress.”
She also expressed concerns that Sri Lanka’s independent institutions, strengthened under the 19th Constitutional Amendment, had come under attack under the current administration. She added that she was troubled by the recent trend towards moving civilian functions under the Ministry of Defence or retired military officers, and renewed reports of surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and victims.
“The increasing levels of hate speech, and security and policy measures appear to be discriminately and disproportionately directed against minorities, both Tamil and Muslim.I urge the Council to remain alert to this situation in terms of prevention and to explore all possible avenues for advancing accountability,” Bachelet claimed.