Human Rights Council
Agenda item 2
Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
1. This oral update is presented pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, which was adopted by consensus with the co-sponsorship of Sri Lanka. The Human Rights Council noted with appreciation the High Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka to its 30th session, including the findings and conclusions of the comprehensive investigation undertaken by OHCHR, and encouraged the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations contained therein. Sinhalese and Tamil versions of the OHCHR investigation are now available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/LKIndex.aspx. The Human Rights Council requested OHCHR to continue to assess progress on the implementation of its recommendations and other relevant processes related to reconciliation, accountability and human rights, and to present this oral update to the Human Rights Council at its thirtysecond session.
2. Building on the recommendations made in the High Commissioner’s report based on the OHCHR investigation, Resolution 30/1 sets out a comprehensive package of judicial and non-judicial measures necessary to advance accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, as well as strengthen protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The resolution represents an historic commitment by the Government of Sri Lanka not only to the international community, but also most importantly to the Sri Lankan people, of its determination to confront the past and end corrosive decades of impunity, serve justice, achieve reconciliation, and build inclusive institutions to prevent the recurrence of violations in the future. As President Sirisena eloquently argued in his Independence Day speech on 4 February 2016, “it will be freedom, democracy and reconciliation which will be brought by implementing these resolutions”.
3. Nine months on from the adoption of Resolution 30/1, and eighteen months since the inception of the National Unity Government, it is therefore timely to take stock of Sri Lanka’s progress in implementing these commitments, to identify challenges and constraints, and to recommend strategies for moving forward, including how the Human Rights Council can continue to support this process.
4. This oral update has been greatly informed by the High Commissioner’s own visit to Sri Lanka from 6-10 February 2016 . The High Commissioner again expresses his appreciation to the Government for the full cooperation extended throughout his visit. He had the opportunity to meet with President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, Leader of the Opposition Sampathan, Foreign Minister Samaraweera and other ministers, as well as military service chiefs. The High Commissioner travelled to Jaffna, Trincomalee and Kandy, where he met provincial chief ministers and officials, religious leaders and a broad spectrum of victims and civil society representatives.
5. This update has also benefited from the observations and recommendations made by a number of Special Procedures mandate holders who have visited Sri Lanka in recent months. The High Commissioner welcomes the Government of Sri Lanka’s very positive and productive engagement with the United Nations human rights mechanisms including the standing invitation issued by Sri Lanka to all Special Procedures in December 2015. The Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances made a full country visit in November 20153. The Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence has continued to remain in close contact with both the Sri Lankan authorities and civil society, making his second and third technical visits in January and June 2016 respectively. The Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers recently completed a joint official visit in April-May 20165. The Special Rapporteur on minority issues is expected to visit in October 2016 and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression has been invited to visit in early 2017. The High Commissioner also welcomes Sri Lanka’s ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED) on 25 May 2016. Several human rights treaty bodies will review progress of Sri Lanka’s implementation of its treaty obligations in the coming months6. Sri Lanka will also come under review at the 28th session of the Universal Period Review Working Group in October-November 2017. On 21 June 2016, the Government provided information to OHCHR which has been taken into account in the preparation of this oral update.
6. OHCHR has continued to provide technical assistance to the Government in a number of areas through its in-country presence and the deployment on mission of experts and senior officials from OHCHR headquarters. This has included support to the design and roll-out of the national consultations process, and advice on concepts for transitional justice mechanisms. OHCHR also works closely with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and civil society, and is fully engaged with the Resident Coordinator and UN Country Team in developing programmatic activities under the UN Peacebuilding Fund.
7. The National Unity Government formed in September 2015 among a broad spectrum of political parties, including the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United People’s Party (UNP), has consolidated its position, creating a political environment conducive to reforms. But the full promise of governance reform, transitional justice and economic revival has yet to be delivered and risks stalling or dissipating. Negotiating party politics and power sharing within the coalition has proved complex as the Government seeks to build and retain the two-thirds majority in parliament necessary to reform the Constitution. This is manifest in an extensive Cabinet with overlapping ministerial mandates, and mixed messages on crucial issues such as accountability.
8. Significant momentum has been achieved in the process of constitutional reform. On 10 March 2016, Parliament adopted a resolution establishing a constitutional assembly to draft and approve a new constitution or amendments by the end of 2016, which would then be put to a referendum in 2017. The drafting process has benefitted from an inclusive public consultation process overseen by a Public Representations Committee that received submissions and held district level consultations in the first quarter of 2016.