The United Nations Human Rights Council’s adoption of a resolution on Sri Lanka demonstrates strong international support for accountability for abuses committed in Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said today. The resolution passed the council by a vote of 24 to 15, with 8 abstentions. Member countries voting for the resolution included India, Nigeria and the United States.
“The Human Rights Council’s vote demonstrates broad international dissatisfaction with Sri Lanka’s accountability efforts in the three years since the end of the war,” said Juliette De Rivero, advocacy director at Human Rights Watch in Geneva. “Many countries have recognized that this resolution is an important first step toward serious action to investigate the many abuses by both sides during the conflict.”
The resolution calls upon the Sri Lankan government to fulfill its legal obligations toward justice and accountability, and to expeditiously provide a comprehensive action plan to implement the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and also to address alleged violations of international law. It also encourages the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN human rights envoys to assist Sri Lanka in implementing these steps.
The Sri Lankan government conducted an unsuccessful campaign in Geneva and in foreign capitals to reject the Human Rights Council resolution, Human Rights Watch said. Sri Lankan human rights advocates came under unprecedented government criticism and harassment in Geneva and Sri Lanka for supporting the resolution. For instance, the state-owned Ceylon Daily News attacked three leading rights advocates and a journalist who were advocating for the resolution, alleging that they were supporters of the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and were acting to “betray Sri Lanka.” Human rights advocates attending the UN session in Geneva were photographed and their pictures published in national media and blogs, labeled as traitors.
“In its failed efforts to block the council resolution, the Sri Lankan government saw fit to put its own citizens at risk through vicious personal attacks on rights advocates,” De Rivero said. “It’s a credit to Human Rights Council members that they saw through the government’s scare tactics to avoid accountability.”
The council resolution is an important advance for accountability in Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch said. After the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to a statement with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in which he promised to address violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. However, the only significant action was the creation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in April 2010. The commission was seriously flawed and its report, published in December 2011, largely exonerates the actions of government forces.
Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for the Human Rights Council to adopt further measures to carry out recommendations to Secretary-General Ban made by his Panel of Experts in April 2011, which found credible allegations of serious laws of war violations by government forces and the LTTE. The panel called for the establishment of an independent international mechanism to conduct investigations into alleged violations.
“Human Rights Council members recognized that when it came to accountability, Sri Lanka has been all talk and no action,” De Rivero said. “It’s crucial that implementation of the resolution be closely monitored to ensure that the victims of Sri Lanka’s long war finally achieve some measure of justice.”