HRW: Key Elements for HRC 37 Statements on Sri Lanka

by Human Rights Watch, January 15, 2018

HRW Sri Lanka HRC37 letter

We write to seek your support in ensuring that the upcoming consideration of Sri Lanka’s progress
towards implementation of its commitments under UN Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution
30/1 accurately and substantively reflects the situation within the country, including both progress
to date and the significant challenges remaining. At the end of this letter, we outline what we would
consider the minimum key elements for credible engagement by delegations during the High
Commissioner’s update.
As you know, resolution 30/1, adopted by the Council in October 2015 through consensus, contains
25 key undertakings by the Sri Lankan government across a range of human rights issues. We
acknowledge at the outset the positive steps taken by the government to date. However, the UN
High Commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, in his opening remarks to the Council
on September 11, 2017, highlighted Sri Lanka’s lack of progress, and called on the government to
realize that its obligations are not a mere “box-ticking exercise to placate the Council but as an
essential undertaking to address the rights of all its people.”
Since then, although the Sri Lanka government renewed its pledges and committed to rights
protections during its Universal Periodic Review, we remain concerned about the government’s
willingness to translate its commitment into action by fully implementing all aspects of resolution
30/1. A key element of the resolution consists of transitional justice promises: an office on missing
and disappeared persons, a truth-seeking and reconciliation mechanism, a special court including
international judges and prosecutors to try allegations of war crimes, and a reparations mechanism.
The government has made only minimal progress towards fulfilling these commitments. While the
government has committed to establishing an Office of Missing Persons, progress has stalled and
the office has yet to be set up. There is little progress on the three other promised mechanisms. Nor
has the government proceeded on its promise to repeal the abusive Prevention of Terrorism Act.
The report of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson,
will be presented during this session; after his visit in July he noted that, the “use of torture is
deeply ingrained in the security sector.”
Importantly, a report issued by the government appointed Consultation Task Force (CTF), which
conducted extensive nationwide consultations on the transitional justice mechanisms, has not yet
been given the attention it deserves. The CTF report contains specific detailed recommendations,
drawn from all affected communities including the security services, and provides an important
blueprint for the way forward.
While the government has made some important symbolic steps towards reconciliation between the
minority and majority communities, including efforts to return some land occupied by the military,
a February 2017 report by the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, highlighted the ongoing
marginalization and misrepresentation faced by minority communities, as well as a trust-deficit
between these communities and the government, due in significant part to a culture of impunity.
The Human Rights Council has played a crucial role in identifying the many steps needed to
reconcile with the past, ensure justice and accountability, and implement necessary reforms. HRC
scrutiny has proved an important catalyst for the progress made to date.
It is imperative that the Council remain fully engaged with the process until the commitments Sri
Lanka made to the HRC and its own people through its co-sponsorship of resolution 30/1 are met in
full. It is of deep concern that Sri Lanka rejected numerous UPR recommendations to provide the
Council with an implementation plan and timetable for fulfilment of its commitments to the HRC.
We anticipate that the High Commissioner will present a robust and substantive report at the
upcoming HRC session on the progress towards implementation of the resolution, and the many
challenges remaining. To maintain confidence in the process, states will need to engage
meaningfully with the High Commissioner’s report and the other reports and recommendations that
will be before the Council. At a minimum, states in their interventions should:
– reaffirm resolution 30/1 and underline the importance of the commitments therein being met
in full;
– welcome the High Commissioner’s report (once available) and call on the government of Sri
Lanka to implement its recommendations;
– welcome the government’s commitments during its Universal Periodic Review, while
expressing concern at its rejection of recommendations to provide the Council with an
implementation plan and timetable for fulfillment of its commitments;
– positively acknowledge the government’s cooperation with UN Special Procedures and
treaty bodies, welcome their reports and encourage implementation of their
– call for substantial progress in key areas (such as security sector reform, resolution of
enforced disappearances, prosecution of war crimes suspects, and land returns);
– call on the government of Sri Lanka to develop and present to the Council a timetable for
implementing the recommendations in the previous resolution and in the High
Commissioner’s report, taking into account the need for an integrated approach to reforms
and transitional justice, rather than prioritising one part of the process over others;
– maintain OHCHR reporting, and pledge to support Sri Lanka through continued HRC
engagement, across a suitable timeframe, with opportunities for interim reporting through
oral updates and interactive dialogues, until its commitments to the Council are met in full.
Anything less would fall substantially short of the expectations of victims, and risk undermining
faith in the process long before the promises of reconciliation, justice and reform have been
translated into reality.
We urge your delegation to actively participate in the HRC debates to address the issues raised in
this letter. Sri Lanka’s long-term peace and stability hinges upon the international community’s
willingness to support the government in addressing the past so that it may look to the future.
Yours sincerely,
John Fisher
Geneva Director

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