Presenting the oral update on Sri Lanka during the 53rd Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council, UN’s Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif said that she would like to encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
She said the government has committed to replace the PTA with legislation that adheres to international standards, but the new Anti-Terrorism Bill that was gazetted in March contains sweeping provisions that will limit freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and even labour rights.
She said that following strong pushback from civil society, the draft bill has now been recalled for additional consultations.
The Deputy High Commissioner encouraged the government to repeal the PTA and in the meantime to implement a strict moratorium on its use considering that the ordinary criminal code and other auxiliary laws already provide adequate tools for law enforcement.
“The office stands ready to provide support to the government and people of Sri Lanka in order to advance reconciliation and accountability and human rights for all,” she said.
Meanwhile, she said the past months have unfortunately witnessed an old reflex of using draconian laws to curtail opposition and control civic space.
“With a heavy-handed approach to protests far too often including the arrest of protest leaders and forceful crowd control measures as well as the persistent use of the military in police functions.”
“Recent arrests made over statements made during comedy performances and of Members of Parliament engaged in protests exemplify this concern.”
“In March of this year, the Human Rights Committee expressed deep concern about the misuse of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act against journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors,” Al-Nashif said.
She urged the international community to use accepted principles of universal and extraterritorial jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, as long as the accountability deficit remains in the country.
She also called on them to support the relevant accountability processes in third states as well as the fair application of targeted sanctions against credibly alleged perpetrators of rights violations in Sri Lanka.
She also encouraged the dialogue that the President has initiated with Tamil political parties and welcomed his promise to stop land acquisition for archeological, forestry or security purposes, an increasing source of local conflict and an increasing source of local conflict and tension.
She noted that plans for more inclusive memorialization and other forms of dealing with the past have been announced and that the Supreme Court has issued an important order for compensation to be paid to the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks.
“However, these intentions need to materialize into new laws, policies and practices that will make good on these promises and bring about tangible change,” she emphasized.
She said the announcement of plans for a Truth Commission or similar reconciliation mechanisms requires attention. “Sri Lanka has witnessed too many ad hoc commissions in the past that failed to ensure accountability. The Office of Missing Persons has not achieved the results that provide satisfaction to victims.”
“What is needed is a coherent plan that connects the different elements of truth, redress, memorialization, accountability and creates the right enabling environment for a successful and sustainable transitional justice process,” the deputy UN rights chief said in the oral update.
Meanwhile, the Core Group of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka has also submitted a resolution to the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council.
The Core Group includes Canada, Malawi, Montenegro, North Macedonia, the US and the UK.
In their report, they said that it is important for Sri Lanka to protect its democracy by ensuring the independence of the Commissions while maintaining voter confidence in the country’s electoral systems.
(Source: Ada Derana)