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Sri Lanka Resolution Passes UN Human Rights Council

March 26th, 2012

The UN Human Rights Council voted Last Thursday (March 22nd) in favor of a resolution calling on the government of Sri Lanka to end impunity for human rights abuses. Allegations of war crimes committed in the final stages of the decades-long civil conflict have dogged the government in Colombo.

The resolution calls on Sri Lanka to “credibly investigate” alleged abuses committed toward the end of the country’s bitter civil war and asks the government to explain how it addresses alleged violations of international humanitarian law, as well as how Sri Lanka would implement the recommendations of an internal inquiry into the war. It also encourages the UN human rights office to provide Sri Lanka with advice and assistance and for the government to accept the advice.

The vote was 24 nations voting in favor, 15 against, and eight abstaining, with non-western governments joining in the US-sponsored resolution. Observers note that the vote was supported by Nigeria and India, as well as a number of Latin American countries, demonstrating that this is not a ‘north’ versus ‘south’ issue. According to Sam Zarifi,  Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director, “It highlights broad concern in the international community that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka is moving in the wrong direction.” He said the resolution was an “opportunity to end the longstanding impunity for human rights violations that have marked the country for decades.”

The resolution means that Sri Lanka “needs to live up to its promises like the one made in 2008 to the UNHRC when it agreed to amending the constitution to allow the establishment of independent judicial, police and other related commissions,” said Dr. Jehan Perera, Executive Director of National Peace Council.

The government’s Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) issued recommendations last November, and while the government repeatedly has affirmed its commitment to implementation of the LLRC recommendations, it has yet to take any action. Critics assert that while the LLRC made some important recommendations, the body lacked independence, and did not properly investigate allegations of war crimes. An estimated 40,000 people were killed in the final months of the conflict. Many of these were civilians killed in shelling by government troops. The LTTE has also been charged with war crimes, having used civilians as human shields and preventing people from leaving the war zone, but the insurgent movement has been effectively wiped out.

In the context of the debates on the Sri Lanka resolution in Geneva, a number of outspoken human rights defenders have become the subjects of a violent smear campaign by private and state-controlled media in Sri Lanka. There are serious concerns about their continued safety in light of the recent vote. A number of Oblates signed letters calling for a vote in favor of the UN action, hoping international attention would help end the impunity for human rights abuses and promote genuine reconciliation.

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