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U.N. Human Rights chief calls for ‘close attention’ on Sri Lanka

Michelle Bachelet was referring to Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s remarks in June, when he said that his government was “committed to work with the UN to ensure accountability”

The UN Human Rights Chief on Monday said she looks forward to “concrete actions” from the Sri Lankan government on its promises, while urging members of the UN Human Rights Council to continue paying “close attention” to the island nation, whose rights record remains in international focus after a decade since its civil war ended.

High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet was referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s remarks in June, when he told a domestic panel probing allegations of rights abuse that his government was “committed to work with the UN to ensure accountability” and will implement “necessary institutional reforms”, evidently departing from his earlier position that Sri Lanka would pull out of UN mechanisms.

Delivering an oral update on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka at the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Ms. Bachelet sought “credible progress” in advancing reconciliation, accountability and human rights in the country. Her statement on Monday is a follow-up on her scathing report in January this year, where she noted that Sri Lanka was “on an alarming path towards recurrence of grave human rights violations”. Her report informed the debate in March this year, before the Council adopted a resolution on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’, with 22 of the 47 member-states voting in its favour. India had abstained.

In her update to the Council, the High Commissioner observed that the current social, economic and governance challenges faced by Sri Lanka indicate “the corrosive impact that militarisation and the lack of accountability continue to have on fundamental rights, civic space, democratic institutions, social cohesion and sustainable development.”

She spoke of Sri Lanka’s draconian terrorism law, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which activists want repealed, pointing to the prolonged detention of lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, for 16 months now, and of Ahnaf Jazeem, a poet, detained without charge since May 2020.

Observing that “surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared” has not only continued, but “broadened” to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies, she said: “Several peaceful protests and commemorations have been met with excessive use of force and the arrest or detention of demonstrators in quarantine centres.” Also read: https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/in-sri-lanka-teachers-resist-bill-militarising-education/article35594377.ece

Responding to the High Commissioner’s statement in a tweet, the Tamil National Alliance, the main grouping representing war-affected Tamils in the north and east in Parliament, said: “We welcome the HC’s concerns and appeal to the Member States to reflect this at the discussion and follow up.”

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