UK Tells UNHRC Srilanka increase surveillance and harassment of civil society actors and militarisation of civilian governmental functions

The Human Rights Council must continue to consider the situation in Sri Lanka and press for progress on justice, reconciliation and accountability, and improved respect for human rights, the UK said at the 46th UNHRC sessions.

“Enhanced monitoring by the Office of the High Commissioner is critical to support this. Together with our Core Group partners, we will present a new resolution to continue the Council’s engagement on these important issues, and have indicated our desire to work with the Government of Sri Lanka in support of accountability and lasting reconciliation for all communities,” the UK said.

UK’s Minister for the UN and Human Rights Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon said this delivering his statement during the Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka.The United Kingdom welcomes the High Commissioner’s detailed and most comprehensive report on Sri Lanka.

The full statement

Thank you, Madam President.

The United Kingdom welcomes the High Commissioner’s detailed and most comprehensive report on Sri Lanka.

We share the concerns regarding the reversal of progress on issues of accountability, and also the current human rights situation, and the risk and recurrence of past violations.

We are also concerned at the increase in surveillance and indeed harassment of civil society actors, the militarisation of these civilian governmental functions, and the impact of the government’s forced cremation policy on different communities in Sri Lanka, particularly the Muslim community, who continue to face persecution.

We also regret the Government of Sri Lanka’s decision to withdraw support for resolution 30/1, and note that previous domestic initiatives have all failed regrettably to deliver meaningful accountability. The appointment of senior military officials allegedly implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity also calls into question Sri Lanka’s commitment to accountability and justice.

Therefore the Human Rights Council must continue to consider the situation in Sri Lanka and press for progress on justice, reconciliation and accountability, and improved respect for human rights. Enhanced monitoring by the Office of the High Commissioner is critical to support this. Together with our Core Group partners, we will present a new resolution to continue the Council’s engagement on these important issues, and have indicated our desire to work with the Government of Sri Lanka in support of accountability and lasting reconciliation for all communities.

Wang Yi and Dinesh Gunawardena show commonality of views on human rights

On Wednesday February 24, the Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a phone conversation with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the latter’s request.

According to a Chinese embassy press release, Gunawardena told Wang that some Western countries, including the United States, have once again exploited the human rights issues, and baselessly accused developing countries including Sri Lanka in the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council. He expressed his hope that China will continue to uphold justice and stand with developing countries.

Wang said that the two countries are “strategic cooperative partners of sincere mutual assistance and lasting friendship.”

Wang said that some Western countries are used to pressuring developing countries on the pretext of human rights, adding that China firmly opposes this, and is willing to unswervingly support Sri Lanka to jointly safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of developing countries, the basic norms governing international relations, and the purposes and principles of the UN Charter including non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs

Lankan Support for China on Xinjiang and Hong Kong

Sri Lanka appreciates China’s fair stance on human rights issues and is willing to join hands with China to safeguard fairness and justice in regional and international affairs, Gunawardena said.

“Those allegations about Xinjiang and Hong Kong are just baseless. We steadily support China on the Xinjiang, Hong Kong related issues and the One-China Policy”, he added.

Belt and Road Initiative

Wang called for cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, turning the Colombo Port City and the Hambantota Port into two major engines to boost Sri Lanka’s economic development, pushing for Sri Lanka’s industrialization, and enhancing the country’s capacity for independent development.

Over the past year, the two countries joined hands to fight against the pandemic and supported each other, and their bilateral relations maintained a strong development momentum, Wang said.

Noting that this year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Wang said that China has won the victory of ending extreme poverty and achieved great results in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and will embark on a new journey toward fully building a modern socialist country.

China’s development means a growing force for peace and the growth of developing countries, which will provide more development opportunities for developing countries, including Sri Lanka, he added.

Gunawardena States Lanka’s Case

Gunawardena, for his part, said Sri Lanka regards China as its closest friend and sincerely thanks China for its long-term, selfless help for Sri Lanka’s economic development, improvement of people’s livelihood, and coping with internal and external challenges.

The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister highlighted that the Colombo Port City, Hambantota Port are key projects for Sri Lanka’s future development, and that Sri Lanka welcomes more Chinese investment, businessmen and tourists

Gunawardena warmly congratulated China on the 100th anniversary of the CPC’s founding, saying that China has, under the leadership of the CPC, completely lifted itself out of poverty, made great development achievements, and significantly improved the livelihood of its people.

Gunawardena said China has also led other countries on the way towards common development, and made vital contribution to human civilization.

US calls for strategy by Sri Lanka to implement OHCHR report

The United States (US) has called for a strategy by Sri Lanka to implement the report on Sri Lanka by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Daniel Kronenfeld, from the US mission in Geneva, told the UN Human Rights Council today that the United States shares OHCHR’s concerns and urges Sri Lanka to make public a strategy and timetable for implementation of the report’s recommendations.

He was speaking during the interactive dialogue on the report on Sri Lanka by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), during the 46th Session of Human Rights Council today.

“We are concerned by accounts of increasing marginalization of minority communities and shrinking space for civil society, including independent media,” Kronenfeld said.

He said the US remains concerned about the lack of accountability, including high-level appointments of military officials credibly accused of conflict-era abuses.

Kronenfeld said the Sri Lankan Government’s efforts to address concerns raised in the OHCHR report via a domestic process needs to be meaningful and credible.

“We note that the Sri Lankan Commission of Inquiry does not include a mandate to pursue accountability, and that the Office of Missing Persons and Reparations needs to operate without political interference,” he said.

The US also noted that respect for the human rights of all Sri Lankans is critical to Sri Lanka’s long-term peace, security and prosperity, and called on the Sri Lankan Government to take meaningful, concrete steps to promote accountability, justice, and reconciliation.

India tells UNHRC Sri Lanka must respect rights of Tamils

India told the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva today Sri Lanka must respect the rights of the Tamils.

Speaking during the interactive dialogue on the report on Sri Lanka by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), during the 46th Session of Human Rights Council today, Ambassador Indra Mani Pandey, the Permanent Representative of India to Geneva, said that India has taken note of the High Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka and her oral remarks.

Pandey noted that the Council has adopted seven resolutions on the question of human rights in Sri Lanka since May 2009, when the three decades old conflict ended.

“India has been an active participant in the discussions on these Resolutions and has remained engaged with Sri Lanka as its close friend and immediate neighbor,” he said.

The Ambassador said that India’s consistent position rests on two pillars. One is to support Sri Lanka’s unity and territorial integrity, and the other is the abiding commitment to the aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, peace and dignity.

“These are not either-or choices. We believe that respecting the rights of the Tamil community, including through meaningful devolution, contributes directly to the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. Therefore, we advocate that delivering on the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community is in the best interests of Sri Lanka,” the Ambassador said.

India called on Sri Lanka to take necessary steps for address such aspirations, including through the process of reconciliation and full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka.

The Ambassador said that the assessment of the High Commissioner regarding developments nearly 12 years from the end of the conflict raises important concerns.

Pandey also said the Sri Lankan Government has articulated its position on these issues as well.

He said that in evaluation of both of these, one should be guided by a commitment to find a lasting and effective solution for the issue.

Pakistan offers Sri Lanka $50m credit line for defence purchases

Pakistan has extended a $50m line of credit for defence purchases to Sri Lanka, its foreign ministry says as Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan concludes a landmark visit to the island nation.

An agreement was also made to increase intelligence sharing and cooperation on other security issues, including anti-terrorism and anti-crime operations.

Khan left Sri Lanka on Wednesday after a two-day visit that saw him hold talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, address a bilateral investment conference, and hold numerous other engagements.

“Both sides expressed satisfaction at the existing bilateral cooperation in the field of defence and noted that the elevation of staff-level talks to Defence Dialogue has further provided an opportunity to expand security sector relations,” said a joint statement.

Pakistan has provided significant military support to Sri Lanka in the past, notably in the closing stages of the country’s decades-long civil war against Tamil rebels, when Pakistani forces provided training and material support to the Sri Lankan military.

Trade ties

The other major focus of Khan’s visit, the first by a head of state to Colombo since the Rajapaksas assumed power last year, was enhancing trade and investment ties.

The Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference, held in Colombo on Wednesday, sought to connect businesses from the two countries to expand trade, as both struggle with a pandemic-related economic slowdown.

“The two sides stressed the importance of realising the goal of achieving US$ 1 billion bilateral trade target and also agreed to work towards broadening and deepening of Pakistan Sri Lank Free Trade Agreement,” said the statement.

In separate talks, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his Sri Lankan counterpart Dinesh Gunawardena discussed the possibility of linking Sri Lankan ports to the southern Pakistani port of Gwadar, a flagship project of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a Pakistani statement said.

“Foreign Minister Qureshi … highlighted the mutual benefit that linking of Gwader Port in Pakistan to the Sri Lankan Ports could bring to both the countries. He invited Sri Lanka to benefit from Gwader Port for easy access to the Central Asian markets,” said the statement.

Cultural exchanges

The visit also focused on cultural exchanges and cooperation in the areas of sports and education.

Pakistan announced 100 new scholarships for Sri Lankan students who wished to study at medical and dental schools in Pakistan.

The potential for expanding religious tourism was also discussed, with the joint statement stressing the need to expand Sri Lankan tourism to Pakistan, which is home to a number of notable Buddhist archaeological sites.

“While realising the existence of great potential of religious tourism to Buddhist archaeological sites and noting the close ancient and cultural ties dating back to Gandhara civilisation, the two sides underscored the importance of enhancing cooperation in the field of tourism and highlighted the benefits of sharing expertise in the hospitality industry, including training and capacity building,” said the statement.

The two sides signed memorandums of understanding on strengthening cooperation in tourism, investment, and educational exchanges. Pakistan also announced a $330,000 grant for the promotion of sports in Sri Lanka.

A joint parliamentary body was also reconstituted, with greater cooperation between the two countries’ legislatures planned. Both sides also stressed the importance of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), a regional body that has seen limited cooperation in recent years due to bilateral issues between India and Pakistan.


Justice has failed Sri Lanka civil war victims: UNHCR

Twelve years after the end of armed conflict in Sri Lanka, domestic efforts to ensure justice for victims have failed, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday.

Introducing her report on Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council, Bachelet said the effect of the conflict on thousands of survivors from all communities was devastating.

“Despite commitments made in 2015, the current government, like its predecessor, has failed to pursue genuine truth-seeking or accountability processes,” she said.

“The impact on thousands of survivors, from all communities, is devastating. Moreover, the systems, structures, policies and personnel that gave rise to such grave violations in the past remain – and have recently been reinforced.”

The decades-long civil war between the Sri Lankan security forces and the separatist Tamil Tigers ended nearly 12 years ago in 2009.

The war killed about 100,000 people, including up to 40,000 Tamil civilians killed by the Sri Lankan forces in the final onslaught, a charge the government denies.

UN reports have accused Sri Lankan troops of shelling hospitals and indiscriminate aerial bombardments, executing surrendering rebels and causing the disappearance of thousands of minority Tamils.

Bachelet said the independence of the judiciary and other accountability bodies has been “deeply eroded” following a recent constitutional amendment and accused the Sri Lankan government of blocking the possibility of genuine progress to end impunity.

“The independence of the judiciary, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the National Police Commission and other key bodies has been deeply eroded by the recently adopted 20th Constitutional Amendment,” Bachelet said.

“The growing militarisation of key civilian functions is encroaching on democratic governance. The continued failure to implement comprehensive reforms – or to vet personnel – leaves in place security and military officers who have been implicated in alleged grave crimes and violations.”

She said longstanding, structural and systemic issues persisted in Sri Lanka and warned there were “clear warning signs that past patterns of violations could be repeated”.

A UNHCR report last month said the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has reversed some advances made under previous administrations in protecting human rights in the country.

Surveillance of rights activists and dissidents has increased and a climate of self-censorship has emerged, it said.

Rajapaksa won the 2019 presidential election on a nationalist agenda which included a promise that troops who crushed the Tamil rebels would not be prosecuted.

Rajapaksa was the top defence official when government forces crushed the rebel fighters in a military campaign that ended in May 2009. His brother Mahinda was president then and is currently the prime minister.

On Tuesday, Sri Lanka urged the UN Human Rights Council to reject a forthcoming resolution voicing “serious concern” over the “deteriorating” rights situation in the country.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told the council the resolution was a “political move” and part of an “unprecedented propaganda campaign” against Sri Lanka.

The United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro and North Macedonia have submitted a draft resolution for consideration by the 47-member council next month.


UN rights chief accuses government; SL rejects report

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has accused the government of failing to “pursue genuine truth-seeking and accountability processes” just as the previous administration.

“…the system’s, structures, policies and personnel that gave rise to such grave violations in the past remain and have been recently reinforced,” Bachelet said during the 46th UN Human Rights Council sessions.

She made these remarks during an interactive dialogue on the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday.

The UN human rights chief also lashed out at the 20th amendment passed recently, citing that it has tarnished the independence of the judiciary, the human rights commission and, the national police commission.

“The policy of forced cremation of covid-19 victims has caused pain and distress to the minority Muslim and Christian communities,” Bachelet observed.

She also noted that commissions appointed by the government have failed to credibly establish and ensure accountability.

“The latest commission of inquiry appointed in January 2021 to review the findings of previous commissions promises to repeat the cycle without meaningful result,” Bachelet insisted.

However, foreign minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that Sri Lanka rejects the report of the UN human rights chief.

“Sri Lanka rejects High Commissioner’s report which has unjustifiably broadened its scope and mandated further incorporating many issues of governance and matters that are essentially domestic for any self-respecting sovereign country,” he said.

The minister also lamented that the human rights chief had refused to publish remarks made by the government as an addendum in the report.

“Sri Lanka calls upon the members of this council that any resolution that is based on this report be rejected by this council and be brought to a closure,” he urged.

The UN Core Group on Sri Lanka has said it would table a resolution against the country at the ongoing UN Human Rights Council sessions.

Canada concerned over deterioration of rule of law in Sri Lanka

Canada is concerned over the deterioration of the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada, Marc Garneau, said that Canada is deeply concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

He said this includes threats to human rights defenders and civil society organizations, suppression of memorialization, forced cremations of religious minorities and the deterioration of the rule of law.

Marc Garneau said the recent report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights highlights the need for the UN Human Rights Council to ensure accountability for crimes committed in Sri Lanka.

Garneau said Canada will continue to support measures that will support accountability, reconciliation and peace.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada was speaking at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Canada is part of the Core Group which has tabled a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council.

US backs UN resolution against Sri Lanka for lack of accountability

US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken today (24) encouraged the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to support the resolution on Sri Lanka.

Speaking at the Council today, Blinken noted the lack of accountability for past atrocities in Sri Lanka.

“We encourage the Council to support resolutions at this session addressing issues of concern around the world, including ongoing human rights violations in Syria and North Korea, the lack of accountability for past atrocities in Sri Lanka, and the need for further investigation into the situation in South Sudan,” he said.

Blinken said the United States is fully committed to the universal protection and promotion of human rights.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with friends and partners in this body and in the NGO community from all regions, to ensure that the Council lives up to its mandate and effectively contributes to human rights around the world,” Blinken said.

Blinken also noted that the United States is now re-engaging with the Human Rights Council and other important international organisations.

“I’m here to reaffirm America’s commitment to respect and defend the human rights of all people, everywhere. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims: All human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated,” he said.

Blinken said the United States is placing democracy and human rights at the centre of its foreign policy, because they are essential for peace and stability.

18 countries pledge to speak on behalf of SL at UNHRC

Eighteen countries have pledged to speak on behalf of Sri Lanka during the ongoing session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a top source said.

These countries will share their views in support of the Sri Lankan government’s position during the High-Level Segment and events. According to the source, there are countries that hold the UNHRC membership among these 18 countries that will stand by Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has undertaken an intense international campaign to lobby for the support of the respective countries to thwart an attempt by the core group of countries to pass a resolution on Sri Lanka on alleged human rights and accountability issues during the war time.

A zero draft of the resolution has been circulated at the moment. Sri Lanka believes the content is identical to the 30/1 resolution passed in 2015. The present government that took office in 2019 withdrew from co-sponsorship of this resolution in March, last year.

The zero draft calls for the Office of the High Commissioner to enhance its monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including progress on reconciliation and accountability, and to present a written update to the Human Rights Council at its forty-ninth session, and a comprehensive report including further options for advancing accountability at its fifty-first session, both to be discussed in interactive dialogues.

However, India has not yet made known its stand on Sri Lanka. The two countries are currently involved in a row over the withdrawal from the commitment of the previous government to develop the East Container Terminal of Colombo Port jointly with India. Also, India has raised concerns over the offer of a contract to a Chinese company to execute power projects in three islets off Jaffna. India is opposed to the involvement of a Chinese company citing security concerns. The Chinese company issued a statement on Monday firmly opposing India’s interference. The company said it won the project through an international, competitive bidding process, and wanted Sri Lanka to respect the guidelines.