UN to Increase Monitoring in Sri Lanka

Human Rights Council to look into evidence of war crimes . . . 

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) approved a resolution today to investigate evidence of human rights abuses and war crimes committed during and after Sri Lanka’s civil war from 1983 to 2009. An estimated 40,000 to 100,000 people died as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) insurgent group fought with the Sinhalese-dominated government to create an independent Tamil state on the island nation. The 47 member UN group voted 22 in favour (including Canada, South Korea), 11 against (including China, Pakistan), and 14 abstained (including India, Japan). The Sri Lankan government has denounced the UN’s move as politically motivated.

Mandate also encompasses contemporary issues . . .

The UNHRC also expressed concern over discrimination against minority Hindu, Muslim, and Christian groups, which make up approximately 13 per cent, 10 per cent, and 8 per cent of the population, respectively. As such, the UNHRC adopted a resolution to address the trend of a “deteriorating situation of human rights” due in part to the increasing militarization within the government and the collapse of an independent judiciary. The government’s decision last year to make it mandatory to cremate the remains of those who died due to COVID-19 caused an uproar among Muslim groups, which say the practice is against their traditions and faith. Even though the government reversed its decision last month, some pundits saw policy change after a year as hypocritical.

What now?

The new mandate will give the UN human rights chief more power to strengthen monitoring, reporting, and preventative mechanisms in Sri Lanka. The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, said that failure to deal with the past has had a devastating impact on Sri Lankan society. She suggested that in the future, the UN will advocate for further international actions, investigations, and prosecutions in national courts, and targeted sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans against alleged perpetrators. According to Al-Nashif, the ongoing government abuses of its civilians and the use of anti-terrorism laws to crack down on certain groups point to the government’s inability or unwillingness to confront its own past and make amends.