Sri Lanka

Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka - Report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/46/20) (Advance edited version)

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Summary

The present report is submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 40/1, in which the Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to continue to assess progress in the implementation of its recommendations and other relevant processes relating to reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka and to present a comprehensive report at its forty-sixth session.

While fully acknowledging the challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is deeply concerned by the trends that have emerged over the past year, which may represent early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation. In the report, OHCHR highlights that developments over the past year have fundamentally changed the environment for advancing reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, eroded democratic checks and balances and the civic space, and permitted the resurfacing of a dangerous exclusionary and majoritarian discourse. These trends threaten to reverse the limited but important gains made in recent years and risk leading to a return to the policies and practices that gave rise to the grave violations of the past. The social and economic impact of COVID-19 has been deep. The High Commissioner believes that the Human Rights Council should urgently pay attention to these early warning signs and continue its close monitoring of and engagement on developments in Sri Lanka. She urges Member States to pursue alternative international options for ensuring justice and reparations and to strengthen capacity to make progress.

Introduction

  1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 40/1 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, adopted by consensus with the co-sponsorship at that time of Sri Lanka. In that resolution, the Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to continue to assess progress in the implementation of its recommendations and other relevant processes relating to reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka and to present a comprehensive report at its forty-sixth session.

  2. In February 2020, the Government of Sri Lanka informed the Human Rights Council of its decision to withdraw its co-sponsorship of Council resolution 40/1 and related resolutions 34/1 and 30/1, expressing its intention to pursue an “inclusive, domestically designed and executed reconciliation and accountability process”. While fully acknowledging the challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the trends that have emerged over the past year, which have fundamentally changed the environment for advancing reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, eroded democratic checks and balances and the civic space, and permitted the resurfacing of a dangerous exclusionary and majoritarian discourse. These trends threaten to reverse the limited but important gains made in recent years and risk leading to a return to the policies and practices that gave rise to the grave violations of the past.

  3. In preparing the report, OHCHR sent a detailed list of questions to the Government of Sri Lanka on 23 November 2020, to which it received a response, in the form of a note verbale, on 28 December 2020. OHCHR held a constructive and substantive online meeting with government representatives on 7 January 2021. The Government provided comments on the report.

  4. During the reporting period, OHCHR continued to provide technical assistance to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the Office on Missing Persons, and worked closely with the Resident Coordinator and United Nations country team in developing programmatic activities under the Peacebuilding Fund and the joint programme for peace. The High Commissioner regrets that the Government did not issue a visa for the deployment of an additional international human rights officer to provide technical assistance to the Government on the promotion and protection of human rights and truth, justice, reconciliation and accountability pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 40/1.

  5. Since Sri Lanka issued a standing invitation to all special procedures in December 2015, 10 special procedures have undertaken official visits to the country. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence undertook four additional academic visits during the period. No special procedure has visited the country since August 2019, but the Government is seeking to reschedule visits of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education and the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences, in 2021. Since January 2020, special procedures have issued eight communications on Sri Lanka. The Government has responded to two.