Twenty eminent persons, including but not limited to, two former Heads of State, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a former Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, and four former United Nations High Commissioners for Human Rights, submit a call to action to the international community to ensure immediate steps are taken towards justice and accountability to end Sri Lanka’s cycles of violence.
The 46th Session of the Human Rights Council will feature Sri Lanka on the agenda, for what is expected to be a contentious debate. The recent report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council shows abysmal progress on accountability and rings alarms bells with regards to human rights and governance.
The High Commissioner’s report is to be praised for its preventive focus. In 2009, the international community failed in its duty to protect Sri Lankans from a humanitarian catastrophe: a UN inquiry found as many as 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final weeks of fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger insurgents. The signatories to the open letter state that “we must not fail again.” Since then, much has been learned about prevention. A consensus has emerged on the need to broaden and to upstream prevention work. Agreement has been reached that the brunt of prevention work is borne by national institutions. But it has been stressed that this presupposes sincere and effective commitment to addressing the root causes of violations and conflict, including through the implementation of transitional justice measures of the sort that the Sri Lankan Government had committed itself to establishing as long ago as 2015 under Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. Since the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November 2019, Sri Lanka has rejected that resolution and reversed the limited reforms the previous government had made.
There are signs that the Government of Sri Lanka is intent upon establishing an autocratic and anti-democratic state that is fuelled by stoking tensions between majority and minority communities. This presents clear risks for recurrence of major human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
Signatories to the open letter call upon members of the international community, the Core Group on Sri Lanka, and members of the Human Rights Council to heed the recommendations of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This will entail a resolution is passed which serves to promote and protect human rights in Sri Lanka.
Failure to do so could have dire consequences for the people of Sri Lanka in the coming years.
Full Text of the Open Letter can be found at: