Sri Lanka: UN Resolution a Significant Step towards Truth, Accountability and Justice
28 March 2014 6:33 pm
For Immediate Release
(Bangkok/Geneva, 28 March 2014) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), a regional human rights NGO, welcomed the adoption of the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka, which among others calls for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to institute investigations into allegations of human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The regional group further urged the Sri Lankan government to end attacks and intimidation of human rights defenders, including those who engage with international mechanisms.
The Sri Lanka resolution was passed at the UN Human Rights Council yesterday by 23 votes to 12, with 12 abstentions. FORUM-ASIA expressed regret that six Asian states, namely China, Maldives, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Vietnam, voted against the resolution.
The regional human rights group particularly criticised the attempts by Pakistan, with the help of China, to destabilise the resolution process by calling for a no-action motion on the resolution and further insisting on removing the section in the resolution that called for investigations. India that had previously voted for the last two resolutions on Sri Lanka regressed by abstaining and supporting the two attempts by Pakistan and China to destabilise the process. Meanwhile, Japan continued to play a disappointing role by abstaining as in previous resolutions on Sri Lanka.
Nevertheless, Indonesia and Philippines who regularly voted against the resolution on Sri Lanka in previous years set a positive example this time, by abstaining. “Although we would have liked to see Indonesia and Philippines vote for this resolution, we see their decision as an important shift towards a strongly positive performance at the UN by ASEAN member states in the future and appreciate Indonesia and Philippines for taking leadership on this by example,” said Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.
FORUM-ASIA welcomed the resolution’s inclusion of a comprehensive investigation that will be undertaken by the OHCHR on alleged violations in Sri Lanka, including wartime abuses. It also provides OHCHR the important mandate of monitoring ongoing violations. An independent international investigation has been a long standing call by civil society both within Sri Lanka and internationally since 2009, when Sri Lanka’s civil war ended with a massive human rights crisis. Earlier this month, FORUM-ASIA along with 23 other civil society organisations based in the global South echoed this call for an international investigation with a clear mandate to establish accountability for alleged violations in Sri Lanka. Such calls have also been endorsed by several UN initiatives, including the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka as well as the latest report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the UN Human Rights Council.
“The right to truth is an essential component in the process of transitional justice, and this must be recognised by the Sri Lankan government if it is truly committed to achieving peace in the country. In the absence of truth and justice, the realisation of peace will remain a distant dream,” said Balais-Serrano.
FORUM-ASIA also raised concern over the increased attacks on human rights defenders even as discussions on Sri Lanka at the latest UN Human Rights Council session began. On 13 March, prominent campaigner against enforced disappearances, Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year-old daughter were taken into custody. Ms. Jeyakumari was subsequently ordered to be detained under the infamously wide-reaching Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and remains in detention to this day. Then on 16 March, well-known activists Rukshan (Ruki) Fernando and Father Praveen were also arbitrarily detained under the PTA when attempting to investigate Ms. Jeyakumari’s arrest. While the two were released on 19 March after international outcry, the court has placed severe restrictions, preventing them from travelling abroad without the court’s permission and from speaking about their arrest, detention and the investigation. Their tablet computers and SIM cards have also been confiscated by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID). On 24 March, a popular Sri Lankan radio programme on a network closely affiliated with the government aired names of lawyers whom it alleged were protecting the rights of “suspected terrorists”.
“These cases are not only a clear attempt by Sri Lankan government to muzzle human rights defenders drawing international attention to human rights violations. They are in fact a move to vilify and delegitimise their work by branding them as ‘terrorists’,” said Balais-Serrano.
FORUM-ASIA further expressed fears that the Sri Lankan government could embark on a major wave of reprisals, once OHCHR institutes investigations on Sri Lanka, in order to intimidate those who engage with the UN and suppress evidence or crucial information on violations.
“Sri Lanka has a long history of reprisals against human rights defenders engaging with the UN and incidents this month do not inspire confidence. We strongly urge the government to end all attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders in the country, and refrain from any such actions in the future,” stressed Balais-Serrano.
FORUM-ASIA is a regional human rights group with 47 member organisations in 16 countries across Asia. FORUM-ASIA has offices in Bangkok, Jakarta and Geneva.
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