Johannesburg, 14 November 2012: The government of Sri Lanka’s refusal to fully support key human rights recommendations during the 14th Session of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) represents yet another setback for reform in the country, said CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.
During its examination under the second cycle of the UPR on 1 November 2012, the Sri Lankan government failed to equivocally commit to making essential rights-based reforms. By rejecting and delaying implementation of several crucial recommendations, the Sri Lankan government has shown a lack of seriousness in addressing pressing human rights concerns in the country, including ending reprisals by state officials against human rights defenders and strengthening the independence of the National Human Rights Commission.
Of critical concern is the government’s unwillingness to cease continued government harassment and threats against independent civil society activists. Following their participation at the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012, the Sri Lankan government subjected several prominent activists to a slanderous campaign. They were portrayed by state-run news agencies as traitorous supporters of the separatist organisation, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) for raising concerns about rights violations.
Furthermore, on 23 March 2012, following the adoption of a UN Human Rights Council Resolution calling on the Sri Lankan government to account for violations of international humanitarian law and to further consider implementing recommendations of an inquiry into the civil war in 2009, the Minister for Public Relations threatened to “break the limbs” of activists if they sought to return to Sri Lanka. In response to these threats, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated: “There has been an unprecedented and totally unacceptable level of threats, harassment and intimidation directed at Sri Lankan activists who had travelled to Geneva to engage in the debate, including by members of the 71-member official Sri Lankan government delegation.”
Since its initial examination under the UPR in 2008, the Sri Lankan government has made repeated commitments to strengthen the National Human Rights Commission, which has been heavily criticized for failing to investigate human rights abuses including persecution of civil society members. In September 2010, the independence of the Commission was further undermined by the passing of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which allows the President to appoint the Commission’s members. Despite repeated calls by UN Member States to reform the Commission, the Sri Lankan government did not fully accept recommendations to immediately ensure that the Commission is in line with international standards.
CIVICUS calls on the government of Sri Lanka to reconsider its rejection of crucial national reforms in line with recommendations made by UN member states during the country’s examination under the 14th Session of the UPR. It is vital that the Sri Lankan government upholds its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right by ensuring a safe and secure environment for civil society members to freely express, associate and assemble.
In particular, the following should be prioritised: (i) putting in place a national action plan for the protection of human rights defenders, (ii) ensuring impartial investigations into all cases of threats and attacks on human rights defenders, (iii) strengthening the capacity and the independence of the National Human Rights Commission for better protection and support to civil society, and (iv) issuing a standing invitation to all UN Special Procedures.