The new government led by Gotabaya Rajapaksa pulling off from its international commitments for accountability has prompted the UN human rights chief to call for ‘renewed attention’ on Sri Lanka.

In her global human rights update to the 45th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called the council’s attention to Sri Lanka and the proposed 20th amendment to its constitution.

“In Sri Lanka, I am troubled that the new Government is swiftly reneging on its commitments to the Human Rights Council since it withdrew its support for resolution 30/1,” said High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet.

“Among other developments, the proposed 20th amendment to the Constitution may negatively impact on the independence of key institutions, including the National Human Rights Commission.”

The presidential pardon to Mirusuvil mass murderer Sunil Ratnayake and moves to thwart investigations of serious crimes allegedly committed by security forces was also highlighted.

“The pardon given in March to a former Army sergeant convicted of participating in unlawful killings; appointments to key civilian roles of senior military officials allegedly involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity; and moves within the police and judiciary to thwart the investigation of such crimes, set a very negative trend,” said High Commissioner Bachelet.

“The surveillance and intimidation of victims, their families, human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers should cease immediately. I encourage the Council to give renewed attention to Sri Lanka, in view of the need to prevent threats to peace, reconciliation and sustainable development.”

The core group

Welcoming the statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Core Group on Sri Lanka reiterated its ‘profound disappointment’ at the government pulling out from the 30/1 commitments.

In a statement to the council, the Core Group on Sri Lanka that consists of Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK had also welcomed what it called Sri Lanka’s continued commitment.

“The Sri Lankan Government has also stated its continuing commitment to fostering reconciliation, justice and peaceful coexistence among Sri Lanka’s diverse communities. It has suggested that a new domestic process will take this agenda forward. While we appreciate this continued commitment, previous such processes have, regrettably, proved insufficient to tackle impunity and deliver real reconciliation. This Council will want to pay particular attention to how the new approach will differ from these previous attempts and put the victims of conflict at its heart. The future of the Independent Commissions including the Office for Missing Persons and Office for Reparations will be particularly important.”

The five countries of the core group also echoed the concern by the UN rights chief about ongoing oppression against victims and activists.

“In the meantime, we continue to hear concerns about an increasingly difficult operating environment for civil society and human rights groups in Sri Lanka,” said the core group.

“Instances of intimidation, harassment and surveillance continue, including threats to families of disappeared persons. Individuals are detained indefinitely without appearance before court, such as lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah.”

Expressing its strong solidarity with Sri Lanka’s civil society, and human rights defenders, The Core Group urged the government to take all steps necessary to allow them to operate freely.