OHCHR Report on Sri Lanka 2019

by Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, February 8, 2019

OHCHR Report on Sri Lanka 8 Feb 2019

Human Rights Council
Fortieth session
25 February–22 March 2019
Agenda item 2
Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General

Summary  In the present report, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights assesses the progress made by Sri Lanka in the implementation of Human Rights
Council resolution 30/1 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri
Lanka, between October 2015 and January 2019. It identifies the challenges faced in the
operationalization of the reconciliation and accountability agenda to which the Government
of Sri Lanka committed under resolution 30/1. The High Commissioner calls upon the
Government to demonstrate sustained commitment and leadership to move that agenda
forward, and urges the Council to continue to monitor and its engagement in developments
in Sri Lanka…

V. Conclusions and recommendations
61. In 2015, by co-sponsoring Human Rights Council resolution 30/1, the
Government of Sri Lanka recognized the need to address the past in order to build a
brighter future, grounded in accountability, respect for human rights and the rule of
law. The lack of decisive steps to that end, and of appropriate communication, has
generated widespread frustration. The lack of accountability for past actions likely
contributed to the return of violence against minorities in March 2018, and played a
role in undermining the principles of democracy and the rule of law in October and
November 2018.
62. The High Commissioner notes the constructive engagement of the Government
of Sri Lanka with OHCHR and United Nations human rights mechanisms since
January 2015. The Government has made progress in human rights issues and its
engagement with civil society in some areas. Progress in its commitments to transitional
justice has, however, been inconsistent and subject to considerable delay, partly because
of the lack of a time-bound comprehensive strategy. Such important achievements as
the establishment of the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations, and
the national consultations have been neither adequately supported by the political
leadership nor sufficiently linked to the accountability and truth-seeking components
that should be at the core of the reconciliation and accountability agenda. The High
Commissioner nonetheless praises the commitment of and efforts made by some
12 See www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/POE_Report_Full.pdf.
13 Available from www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/hrc/regularsessions/session30/pages/listreports.aspx.
14 The riots in Kandy followed a smaller incident in Ampara, in February 2018, and incidents in 2017 in
Gintota, Mount Lavinia and other locations reported in previous updates, and the Aluthgama riots of
2014. See A/HRC/37/23, paras. 46-47.
officials, particularly in several ministries, the Secretariat for Coordinating
Reconciliation Mechanisms, the Office on Missing Persons, the Office for National
Unity and Reconciliation and the Human Rights Commission, who have relentlessly
endeavoured to push the human rights and reconciliation agenda forward.
63. The importance of the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary
and other checks and balances in a democratic society was highlighted by a number of
situations in 2018. The judiciary and independent commissions, including the Human
Rights Commission, continue to play a vital role in strengthening reforms and
cementing good governance in Sri Lanka.
64. The lack of progress showsthat the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka should
remain firmly on the agenda of the Human Rights Council. The High Commissioner
therefore urges the Council to remain closely engaged with the Government of Sri
Lanka and to continue to monitor developments in the country.
65. In particular, the High Commissioner highlights the recommendations below,
and reiterates some already made in previous reports.
A. Government of Sri Lanka
66. The High Commissioner recommends that the Government of Sri Lanka:
(a) Implement the recommendations made in the report of the Consultation
Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms to frame and guide all future transitional
justice processes, and to continue engagement with the public in the design of such
(b) Prepare a comprehensive strategy on transitional justice, with a timebound plan to implement the pending commitments made within the context of Human
Rights Council resolution 30/1 and the recommendations made in the present and
previous reports of the High Commissioner submitted to the Council;
(c) Invite OHCHR to establish a full-fledged country office to monitor the
situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, to advise on the implementation of the
recommendations made by the High Commissioner, the Human Rights Council and
other human rights mechanisms, and to provide technical assistance;
(d) Invite the Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparations and
guarantees of non-recurrence to continue the engagement under his mandate in the
above-mentioned process; the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman
or degrading treatment or punishment to examine allegations of torture and related
human rights violations; and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on
Sexual Violence in Conflict to visit Sri Lanka and to provide expert advice, including
on relevant reforms.
67. With regard to institutional reforms, the High Commissioner recommends that
the Government:
(a) Publicly issue unequivocal instructions to all branches of the military,
intelligence and police forces that torture, sexual violence and other human rights
violations are prohibited, and will be investigated and punished; and order all security
forces to immediately end all forms of surveillance and harassment of and reprisals
against human rights defenders, social actors and victims of human rights violations;
(b) Develop a full-fledged vetting process, respecting due process, in order to
remove from office security personnel and other public officials involved in human
rights violations; implement other reforms of the security sector to strengthen
accountability and civilian oversight; and apply stringent screening procedures for
units and individuals applying to serve in United Nations peace operations;
(c) Establish an independent mechanism to determine specific cases in which
land must be allocated for military use owing to security reasons, and identify
appropriate compensation or substitution for land owners or occupants;
(d) Support the Human Rights Commission, including by ensuring that it
receives adequate resources to fulfil its mandate effectively, including review of and
advice on draft legislation, and its role as national preventive mechanism;
(e) Support the independent commissions, fully respect their independence,
and take into account their recommendations.
68. With regard to legislation and justice, the High Commissioner recommends that
the Government:
(a) Accede to the additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions and to the
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court;
(b) Enact legislation to criminalize war crimes, crimes against humanity,
genocide and enforced disappearances without statutes of limitation, and enact
internationally recognized modes of criminal liability, in particular with regard to
command or superior responsibility;
(c) Adopt legislation establishing a hybrid court to investigate allegations of
violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international
humanitarian law;
(d) Review the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and
Witnesses Act with a view to incorporating safeguards for the independence and
effectiveness of the victim and witness protection programme, in accordance with
international standards;
(e) Strengthen the forensic capacity of the police and judiciary, and ensure
that it is adequately resourced, including for DNA testing, forensic anthropology and
(f) Replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act with legislation that adheres to
the best international practices, seeking advice from the Human Rights Commission;
(g) Review all cases of detainees held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act
with the aim of either releasing them or bringing them immediately to trial; establish a
moratorium for the use of the Act for new arrests until it is replaced by legislation that
adheres to international best practices; and review the cases of those convicted under
the Act and are serving long sentences, particularly where convictions were based solely
on confessions;
(h) Promptly investigate and prosecute all allegations of torture and other
gross human rights violations, and give the highest priority to long-standing emblematic
cases so as to regain public confidence in the justice system.
69. With regard to truth and the right to know, the High Commissioner recommends
that the Government:
(a) Design, enact and operationalize a truth-seeking mechanism that has
appropriate linkages to other transitional justice components, and provide it with
sufficient resources and the technical means necessary to carry out its mandate;
(b) Provide the Office on Missing Persons with sufficient resources and
technical means to effectively fulfil its mandate, including specific forensic capacity and
clear coordination protocols with the judiciary; and take interim relief measures for
families of disappeared persons, regardless of their right to comprehensive reparations.
70. With regard to reparations, the High Commissioner recommends that the
(a) Provide the Office for Reparations with the resources and technical means
necessary to implement its mandate;
(b) Through the Office for Reparations, develop a national reparations policy
that takes into account the specific needs of women and children and psychosocial
support for victims.
B. United Nations system
71. The High Commissioner recommends that the United Nations system:
(a) Continue to provide Sri Lanka with technical and financial support for
the development of transitional justice mechanisms, provided that they meet
international standards;
(b) Apply stringent vetting procedures to Sri Lankan police and military
personnel in the selection of persons for peacekeeping operations, military exchanges
and training programmes.
C. Member States
72. The High Commissioner recommends that Member States:
(a) Urge the Human Rights Council to continue its close engagement with the
Government of Sri Lanka and to monitor developments in the country;
(b) Investigate and prosecute, wherever possible, in particular in accordance
with universal jurisdiction principles, those allegedly responsible for such violations as
torture, enforced disappearance, war crimes or crimes against humanity; and explore
other options to advance accountability in the absence of credible domestic processes.
(c) Continue to accompany the people of Sri Lanka in their efforts to address
past human rights violations by supporting the establishment of adequate systems of
accountability, justice and reconciliation.

Also at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session40/Pages/ListReports.aspx

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