UN Rights chief to urge UNHRC to give Sri Lanka more time

zeidThe UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Al Ra’ad Al Hussein, is to urge the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to give Sri Lanka more time to show more progress in several areas.

In an advanced version of his oral update on Sri Lanka to be presented to the Council tomorrow, which has been made public, Zeid Al Ra’ad Al Hussein says overall, the Human Rights Council should be encouraged thus far by the steps that the Government of Sri Lanka has taken to implement some of the key commitments made in Resolution 30/1, and the consultations and preparations now underway to further elaborate and design the transitional justice mechanisms.

He says the restoration of the Constitutional Council, an independent Human Rights Commission and the ratification of the Disappearances Convention (CED) are important achievements that will leave a legacy for the future.

“Once established, the new Office of Missing Persons will hopefully provide at least a form of immediate redress for the families of the disappeared. Nonetheless, the establishment of full transitional justice mechanisms will be needed to provide a comprehensive response to past human rights violations and ensure that they do not reccur,” he says.

He also notes that more rapid and sustained progress could have been made on other issues, such as the release of land and detainees and the revision of the PTA and witness protection laws, which would build confidence with the minority community.

The High Commissioner says the early momentum established in investigating emblematic cases must be sustained, as early successful prosecutions would mark a turning point from the impunity of the past. Continuing allegations of arbitrary arrest, torture and sexual violence, as well as more general military surveillance and harassment, must be swiftly addressed, and the structures and institutional culture that promoted those practices be dismantled, to show there will be no tolerance for practices of the past.

The High Commissioner believes the Government’s efforts to implement its commitments in Resolution 30/1 will require a comprehensive strategy that enables it to pursue different processes in a coordinated, integrated and appropriately sequenced manner.

Such a strategy, he says, would bring together the currently unwieldy coordination arrangements within Government and facilitate greater coordination of international donor support.

“It should be backed up by a concerted public information campaign that would mobilise the power and participation of civil society behind the transitional justice process. This would also increase transparency and ensure that the current consultation process with victims and civil society can be maximized and have a meaningful input into the design of transitional justice mechanisms. OHCHR continues to stand ready to provide further advice and technical assistance,” he says.

The High Commissioner notes that inevitably, the transformative process on which Sri Lanka is embarked will take time and that dealing with the multiple tracks of constitutional reform, transitional justice, economic recovery and security sector reform would tax the capacity of any government.

Nevertheless, the High Commissioner urges the Government to take concrete steps to address the impatience, anxiety and reservations towards the process that stem from various quarters, and reiterates the importance for all Sri Lankans to rally behind the process.

He also says the encouragement and support of the Human Rights Council has been crucial in underpinning this process and giving assurance and confidence to all stakeholders, particularly the victim community.

The High Commissioner therefore hopes the Human Rights Council will sustain its close engagement and he looks forward to reporting on further progress at its thirty-fourth session. (Colombo Gazette)

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