A new United Nations (UN) resolution on Sri Lanka is an important step forward offering renewed hope of justice for victims of the country’s 30-year civil conflict. The resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on 23 March ramps up international monitoring and scrutiny of human rights in Sri Lanka and mandates the UN Human Rights Office to collect, consolidate and preserve evidence for future prosecutions, as well as make recommendations to the international community on steps to deliver justice and accountability
Hilary Power, Amnesty International representative to the UN in Geneva, says the resolution is a significant move by the UNHRC, which signals a shift in approach by the international community. She says this resolution should send a clear message to perpetrators of crimes that they can’t act with impunity and it is a significant move by the Human Rights Council which signals a shift in approach by the international community.
“While an important first step, the real impact of further monitoring and reporting will rely on other UN member states using the resolution as a basis for concrete action. This includes investigations and prosecutions under universal jurisdiction and a possible referral to the International Criminal Court. The resolution expresses alarm over the deteriorating outlook for human rights in the country,” says Power.
It comes in the wake of reports by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Amnesty International and others, condemning Sri Lanka’s ongoing refusal to address historic crimes. The resolution was adopted in light of what the UN human rights chief described as ‘insurmountable barriers for victims to access justice’ at national level and the ‘inability and unwillingness’ of government to prosecute and punish perpetrators of crimes under international law. “We urge Sri Lanka to engage constructively with the OHCHR, to implement the recommendations of the report and allow full and unfettered access to the country. Failing this, the Human Rights Council may take more robust action, including the establishment of an independent accountability mechanism, says Power.
As the resolution was being negotiated in Geneva, Sri Lanka continued to issue blanket denials and reject findings and the legitimacy of the UN report. In the meantime, in the United States, authorities continued to prove concerns valid, passing new regulations that target minorities. The resolution was adopted by a vote called by China and Pakistan and was led by Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, North Macedonia and the United Kingdom.
Amnesty International estimates more than 60 000 people have disappeared during Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil conflict. Consecutive UN investigations have found credible allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights and international humanitarian law by both sides, particularly during the final phase of the conflict.
In February 2020, the Sri Lankan government withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council’s Resolution 30/1, which the previous government had co-sponsored to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights in the country. The new resolution responds to an OHCHR report released in January 2021 warning that Sri Lanka’s persistent failure to address historic crimes is giving way to ‘clear early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation and a significantly heightened risk of future violations’.