Meenakshi Ganguly: Sri Lanka’s representation on the Human Rights Council is crucial in helping the people of Sri Lanka deal with the issue and its root causes. The government’s efforts to protect those guilty from justice and the brutality against civilians have thrown a heavy shadow over the nation. The independence of the court and the rule of law in Sri Lanka have been undermined by the appointment of those purportedly responsible for atrocities to high office. In one uncommon instance where a soldier was found guilty of murder, the president commuted the sentence. Ranil Wickremesinghe, the next president, has pledged reform.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has arrested and detained three student activists without charge for up to a year using the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act. The application of this law demonstrates that the government’s claims of respect for human rights to the international community are unreliable.
Meenakshi Ganguly is Human Rights Watch’s South Asia director. The global media has focused on Sri Lanka’s economic, political, and human rights crisis, although its causes date back many years, if not decades. In her report on Sri Lanka released in September, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stressed that “the environment for corruption and the abuse of power was fostered by the impunity for significant human rights breaches.”
A resolution addressing this topic will be soon considered by the UN Human Rights Council. The global south’s representation on the council, which includes Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Namibia, and Senegal, is crucial in helping the people of Sri Lanka deal with the issue and its root causes.
The government of Sri Lanka and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fought a bloody civil war there from 1983 to 2009. (LTTE). The government’s ongoing efforts to protect those guilty from justice and the decades-long brutality against civilians have thrown a heavy shadow over the nation. Widespread international law violations were perpetrated by both sides.
The LTTE employed human shields during the closing months of the conflict in 2009, and government forces bombed hospitals and no-fire zones, killing tens of thousands of Tamil civilians. Government forces were charged with summary executions, rape, and forced disappearances as the war came to a conclusion with the destruction of the LTTE’s leadership and defeat of the organisation.
Since then, a lot of Tamils have been curious about what happened to those who stayed behind. In August, a group called the Mothers of the Disappeared celebrated 2,000 days of nonstop demonstrations calling for information on the whereabouts of their loved ones. The security apparatus of the government has intimidated and monitored them instead of providing them with answers. But the group’s representatives have come to Geneva to urge the Human Rights Council to maintain their expectations for justice.
People from all of the nation’s religions and cultures have submitted testimonies of their suffering and requests for justice to the Human Rights Council over a long period of time. Many Sri Lankans travel to Geneva because, as well-known Sri Lankan activist Ruki Fernando recently noted, “It is the failure to obtain truth and justice in Sri Lanka despite many efforts, and the ensuing loss of trust and hope in domestic systems.”
The independence of the court and the rule of law in Sri Lanka have been undermined by the appointment of those purportedly responsible for these atrocities to high office and the obstruction of investigations. In one uncommon instance where a soldier was found guilty of murder, the president commuted the sentence.
Sri Lanka ran out of foreign currency earlier this year as a result of years of poor management and corruption, making it unable to continue financing imports of necessities like food, fuel, and medication. As a result, the government was forced to stop paying its foreign loans. Massive protests broke out as a result of rising inflation and people’s inability to afford basic necessities, which resulted in the resignations of the president and prime minister in May and July, respectively.
Numerous common Sri Lankans took to the streets to demand constitutional reform and anti-corruption measures. Human rights organisations were undermined by a 2020 constitutional amendment that also gave the president the authority to nominate senior judges. Additionally, it undercut organisations tasked with preventing economic crimes, such the Bribery Commission.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, the next president, has pledged reform. But he has responded by quelling criticism, dispersing lawful demonstrations with the help of the military, and detaining numerous accused protest organisers. He has held three student activists without charge for up to a year using the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act.
The application of this law demonstrates that the government’s claims of respect for human rights to the international community are unreliable. A moratorium on the use of that statute, which has frequently been used to justify arbitrary detention and torture and which succeeding administrations have promised to remove, was announced to the Human Rights Council as recently as June, according to the then-foreign minister at the time.
The UN project’s mandate is being extended by the resolution that is currently before the Human Rights Council. Its goal is to compile and examine evidence of war crimes and other crimes against international law that have been committed in Sri Lanka in order to get it ready for use in potential future prosecutions. Additionally, it requires the UN to keep track on and report on Sri Lanka’s human rights crisis. That is more crucial than ever when people struggle to afford basic essentials and the government cracks down on dissent.
In opposition to these measures, the Sri Lankan government has made the untrue claim that it is already doing its part to defend human rights. The resolution should have the full backing of Council members from the global south in order to stand with Sri Lankans who are demanding accountability and change.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network