Lanka accuses UNHRC of double standards and politicisation of human rights
Posted on March 2nd, 2024

Courtesy The Sunday Times

Sri Lanka has told the UN Human Rights Council that double standards, which contribute to the politicisation of human rights, cannot be condoned.

Himalee Arunatilaka, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva, addressing the 55th session of the Human Rights Council on Friday, drawing attention to the plight of the people in Gaza, questioned, Where are the resolutions and where are the accountability projects?” We cannot condone the continuing double standards of some sectors that provide no tangible relief to the grievances of people but only contribute to the politicisation of human rights.”

The Ambassador, during her statement to the Council, also responded to a string of allegations made by UN Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Türk earlier during the session.

She explained that during his address, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, Ali Sabry, elaborated on the recent engagements with several working methods of the Council.

The government, to overcome the challenges of the recent past, prioritised economic recovery and reconciliation objectives while ensuring that the country’s democratic traditions and institutions remained stable at all times. Being sensitive to the economic hardships faced by the people, social safety nets have been strengthened to help cushion the impact of the challenges on the poor and vulnerable,” she said.

Despite severe constraints, our objectives remain steadfast and unwavering towards expediting the ongoing efforts to strengthen the foundation of national unity, post-conflict reconciliation, and human rights. Sri Lanka is committed to pursuing progress through already established domestic mechanisms,” she said.

She explained that consultations on the draft Truth, Unity and Reconciliation Commission bill were ongoing with the participation of the government, civil society, religious leaders, and legal experts. The draft bill was gazetted on January 1, 2024, and would be tabled in Parliament after providing sufficient time for the people to express their views on the draft. An interim-Secretariat, to lay the foundation for the commission, has already been established since May 2023 and continues its work.

The work of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) is ongoing. Demonstrating significant public trust in the OMP, 5,221 out of 6,025 phase 1 complainants have met with the OMP, and inquiries held. Progress was made in tracing missing persons in 2023 as the OMP’s Tracing Unit found 16 persons alive, and confirmed three deceased. 1,313 families received Certificate of Absence (CoA) and steps have been taken to extend the validity period until 2028, she said.

During the past year, despite the financial situation in the country, the Office for Reparations (OR) had granted Rs. 41.2 million to the families of the missing. With the financial and technical assistance of the IOM, the OR continues to implement several projects to provide psychosocial support for aggrieved communities, she added.

The Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) has been further strengthened by an Act of Parliament, whereby it now functions as an independent institution, like the OMP and OR. The ONUR conducts training programmes to promote religious coexistence and conflict transformation workshops, providing opportunities for interfaith and intercultural dialogue,” she said.

Sri Lanka reiterates its categorical rejection of Resolutions 46/1 and 51/1 and the external evidence-gathering mechanism that stems from these two divisive and intrusive resolutions. Both of these resolutions, that do not have the consent of the country concerned, have wide-ranging legal and political implications for all countries. The establishment of such unhelpful mechanisms, utilising the funds of Member States at a time when the UN is facing a liquidity crisis for dire humanitarian needs, for a purpose and end result that is vague and ambiguous, contravenes the very founding principles of this Council. Its sole purpose seems to cater to the aspirations of a few and does not in any way help the people of Sri Lanka,” she said.

She noted that the Online Safety Bill, a domestic legislation that the Government is now in the process of amending in good faith, taking into consideration the additional proposals presented by civil society and other stakeholders.

After reviewing petitions following the tabling of the revised Anti-Terrorism Bill in Parliament on January 10, 2024, the Supreme Court has provided its determination on the said Bill. The Government has taken cognizance of the Supreme Court determination, and the bill will be appropriately amended prior to being passed into law. Six rounds of consultations with civil society organisations had taken place regarding the draft NGO Act (NGO Registration and Supervision Bill) in Sri Lanka. It is emphasised that there is a necessity of incorporating provisions in the bill to tackle concerns such as terrorism financing and money laundering, while all concerns raised by civil society organisations have been considered and integrated into the draft  bill,” she said.

Notwithstanding our position on the HRC Resolutions, as a responsible member of the international community, Sri Lanka will continue to engage constructively with the UN and its agencies, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies as well as the international obligations voluntarily undertaken,” she added.

Earlier, UN Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Türk urged the Sri Lankan government to immediately undertake credible accountability measures to investigate and prosecute past and present human rights violations and economic crimes.

Sustainable peace and reconciliation will not be achieved in Sri Lanka with regressive laws and authoritarian approaches, which will only serve to perpetuate the human rights concerns of the past,” the High Commissioner said.

I urge the Government immediately reverse this trend and undertake credible accountability measures to investigate and prosecute past and present human rights violations and economic crimes. I also urge Member States to continue to reinforce these efforts, including through appropriate use of universal and extra-territorial jurisdiction and targeted measures against credibly-alleged perpetrators of serious human rights violations and abuses,” the High Commissioner added.

He said that it was through addressing the root causes of the country’s conflict and economic crisis, and ensuring accountability, that Sri Lanka would be able to enhance its prospects of achieving genuine reconciliation and sustainable peace and development.

He said there was great hope that the country would embark upon a long-overdue transformation that would benefit all its communities.

The High Commissioner expressed concern about new and proposed laws, which he said include the Online Safety Act, the Anti-Terrorism Bill, the Electronic Media Broadcasting Authority Bill, and the NGO Supervision and Registration Bill.

The High Commissioner also referred to the consequences of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, saying it continued to bite deeply, particularly for the most marginalised.

Poverty rose further to an estimated 27.9% last year. Nearly two-thirds of households across the country have seen their monthly incomes decrease since March 2022, while food, transportation, health, and education costs continue to rise. Despite the government’s efforts, social protection remains overstretched, and the government’s largest budget expenditure this year will go towards servicing its debt,” he said.

While the government has introduced a draft legislation for a Commission for Truth, Unity and Reconciliation, the environment for a credible truth-seeking process remains absent. My Office continues to receive allegations of surveillance, harassment, and arrests by security forces of civil society representatives, journalists, and victims, as well as of people who have been involved in organising commemoration events for war victims,” the High Commissioner said.

I remain deeply concerned about recurring, credible accounts received by my Office of abductions, unlawful detention and torture, including sexual violence, by the Sri Lankan police and security forces, some of which allegedly took place in 2023, mainly in the north and east of the country. Last week, the appointment of a new Inspector General of Police was confirmed, despite the Supreme Court’s finding that he was responsible for the torture of an individual in 2010. These cases highlight the need for comprehensive security sector  reform,” he said.

He said his office continued to work to advance accountability in Sri Lanka. It is providing support to several jurisdictions undertaking criminal justice investigations, and is deepening its information and evidence based on specific incidents of human rights concern. It has also been carrying out research on enforced disappearance and conducting consultations with victims.

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