BY Mirudhula Thambiah
A fresh draft resolution on Sri Lanka, which was co-sponsored by the Core Group of countries on Sri Lanka at the ongoing 51st United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session, noted the need for power devolution, the conduct of polls, addressing the plight of missing persons, replacing the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, and accountability for protest-related violence, whilst recognising the efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to address the economic crisis, including the staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
This newly drafted resolution on Sri Lanka, co-sponsored by the Core Group of countries on Sri Lanka, namely, the UK, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and the US, was made public yesterday (14).
The Core Group also highlighted that they acknowledge the Sri Lankan Government’s commitment to Constitutional reforms, while stressing the importance of the independence of key commissions and institutions, including the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), the Election Commission, the National Police Commission, the Commission to Investigate into Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, and the Judiciary.
This draft called upon the GoSL to fulfil its commitments on the devolution of political authority, which it stated is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population, and thus encouraged the Government to respect local governance (LG), mainly through the holding of the elections for the Provincial Councils (PCs), and to ensure that all PCs, including the Northern and Eastern PCs, are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
The draft resolution expressed concerns that the initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic had an impact on the freedom of religion or belief, and exacerbated the prevailing marginalisation of and discrimination against the Muslim community, and acknowledged that while cremations for those deceased from Covid-19 are no longer compulsory, Muslims and members of other religions should be allowed to continue to practice their own burial-related religious rites.
The draft resolution also expressed concern at the human rights-related impacts of the economic crisis, including from increased food insecurity, severe shortages in fuel, shortages in essential medicines and reductions in household incomes, while stressing the need to promote and protect the rights of the most marginalised and disadvantaged individuals, including daily wage earners, children, older persons, and persons with disabilities.
The resolution drafted by the Core Group of countries stresses the importance of re-energising the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), and the Office for Reparations, while noting that the tangible results expected by victims and other stakeholders are yet to be achieved, including resolving the many cases of enforced disappearances so that the families of disappeared persons can know their fate and whereabouts. The importance of the effective and independent functioning of the HRCSL was also elaborated.
The Core Group took note of the introduction of Amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (PTA) in March 2022 and continued detentions under this legislation, and also of the Government’s expressed intention in this regard to introduce new legislation on combating terrorism, and therefore encouraged the Government to engage in consultations with civil society, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the relevant UN Special Procedures’ Mandate holders in the preparation of new legislation, in order to ensure that any legislation on combating terrorism complies fully with the State’s international human rights and humanitarian law-related obligations.
The draft resolution noted the declaration of four states of emergency in Sri Lanka since August 2021, recalling that in accordance with Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), certain rights are recognised in the Covenant as non-derogable in any circumstances, and that any measures derogating from other provisions of the Covenant must be in accordance with Article 4 in all cases, and also underlined the exceptional and temporary nature of any such derogations as stated in General Comment Number 29 on states of emergency adopted by the UN Human Rights Committee of the ICCPR on 24 July 2001.
It also expressed concerns over other human rights related developments since April, 2022, including violence against and the arrests of peaceful protestors, as well as violence against Government supporters, resulting in deaths, injuries, destruction, and damage to houses of Parliamentarians, and hence stressed the importance of independent investigations into all the attacks and for those found responsible to be held to account.
They remain concerned at the continued militarisation of civilian government functions, the erosion of the independence of the Judiciary and key institutions responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights, the lack of progress in addressing longstanding grievances and demands of the Tamil and Muslim populations, the surveillance, intimidation, and harassment of journalists, human rights defenders, families of the disappeared, and persons involved in memorialisation-based initiatives, and sexual and gender-based violence.
Meanwhile, in the draft resolution on Sri Lanka, the Core Group of countries also welcomed the engagement of the GoSL with the UN OHCHR and the Special Procedures of the UNHRC, and therefore urged the continuation of such engagement and dialogue, while calling upon Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations made by the UN OHCHR and to give due consideration to the recommendations made by the Special Procedures.