Sri Lanka: Landmark UN resolution marks crucial turning point on justice and accountability

 

A new UN resolution on Sri Lanka is an important step forward and offers renewed hope of long-awaited justice for victims of the country’s 30-year civil conflict, said Amnesty International, following its adoption by the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) today. 

The resolution not only ramps up international monitoring and scrutiny of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, but also mandates the UN human rights office to collect, consolidate and preserve evidence for future prosecutions and make recommendations to the international community on steps they can make to deliver on justice and accountability. 

“This is a significant move by the Human Rights Council, which signals a shift in approach by the international community. Years of support and encouragement to Sri Lanka to pursue justice at the national level achieved nothing. This resolution should send a clear message to perpetrators of past and current crimes that they cannot continue to act with impunity,” said Hilary Power, Amnesty International’s representative to the UN in Geneva. 

This is a significant move by the Human Rights Council, which signals a shift in approach by the international community
Hilary Power, Amnesty International’s representative to the UN in Geneva

While an important first step, the real impact of further monitoring and reporting will rely on other UN member states using the resolution as a basis for concrete action, including investigations and prosecutions under universal jurisdiction and a possible referral to the International Criminal Court.” 

The resolution was adopted in light of what the UN human rights chief described as “insurmountable barriers for victims to access justice” at national level, and the “inability and unwillingness” of the Government to prosecute and punish perpetrators of crimes under international law. 

The resolution comes in the wake of damning reports by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Amnesty International and others, condemning Sri Lanka’s ongoing refusal to address historic crimes and expressing alarm over the deteriorating outlook for human rights in the country. 

We urge Sri Lanka to engage constructively with the OHCHR, to implement the recommendations of the report and to allow full and unfettered access to the country
Hilary Power, Amnesty International’s representative to the UN in Geneva

As the resolution was being negotiated in Geneva, Sri Lanka continued to issue blanket denials and reject the findings and legitimacy of the UN report. In the meantime, at home the authorities continued to prove the concerns valid, passing new regulations that target minorities. 

“We urge Sri Lanka to engage constructively with the OHCHR, to implement the recommendations of the report and to allow full and unfettered access to the country. Failing this, the Human Rights Council may take more robust action, including the establishment of an independent accountability mechanism, said Hilary Power. 

Background 

Today’s resolution was adopted by a vote, called by China and Pakistan. The resolution was led by Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and the United Kingdom.  

In February 2020, the Sri Lankan government withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council’s landmark resolution 30/1, which the previous government had co-sponsored, to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights in the country. 

Amnesty International estimates that more than 60,000 people disappeared during Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil conflict. Consecutive UN investigations have found credible allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights and international humanitarian law by both sides, particularly during the final phase of the conflict. See here for further information.  

The resolution responds to an OHCHR report released in January, which warned that Sri Lanka’s persistent failure to address historic crimes is giving way to ‘clear early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation and a significantly heightened risk of future violations, and made concrete recommendations for “preventive action” for the Human Rights Council, including enhanced monitoring and reporting, and the collection and preservation of evidence, which have been mandated by this resolution.  

Prior to the UNHRC session, Amnesty International published an assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka, setting out clear expectations for UNHRC action. Amnesty International also released a report in February, Old ghosts in new garb: Sri Lanka’s return to fear, which details the authorities’ renewed crackdown on dissent and obstruction of efforts to deliver justice for conflict-era crimes, and a statement in March around the worrying trend of increased marginalization and targeting of Sri Lanka’s Muslim community.