The 47-member UNHRC adopted a resolution on Tuesday, brought by Great Britain on behalf of a group of countries, boosting UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet’s staff and powers, with a view to future prosecutions.
22 countries voted in favour of the text, 11 opposed and 14 abstained, including Sri Lanka’s neighbours, India and Nepal and most Muslim majority countries, except for Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan, who voted against the motion.
In the resolution, the Human Rights Council expressed “deep concern” at the “deteriorating situation” in Sri Lanka, and criticized the erosion of judicial independence, marginalization of minorities, and impunity.
The text pointed to trends emerging over the past year, which according to Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, speaking on behalf of the European Union, represent clear early “warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka”
In his introductory comments, UK Representative to the UN in Geneva, Julian Braithwaite, warned of trends which “threaten to reverse the limited gains made in recent years and risked the recurrence of policies and practices that gave rise to the grave violations of the past.”
Tichy-Fisslberger highlighted the “accelerating militarisation of civilian government functions, “the erosion of the independence of the judiciary”, and “increased marginalization” of Tamil and Muslim minorities, which has been “exacerbated” by the island’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the reported prevention of Muslims, and members of other religions, from practicing their own religious burial rites.
The resolution also called on the Sri Lankan government to revise the law on the prevention of terrorism which rights groups have warned is being used as a weapon targeting dissidents and minorities in the country.
Under the PTA, it is permitted to detain anyone suspected of causing “acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony”.
The representative for the Philippines, Evan P. Garcia, said the text was “driven by simplistic generalizations of complex conditions on the ground”, whilst Pakistan’s spokesperson, Khalil-ur-Rahman Hashmi argued that the draft resolution “fails to acknowledge the long struggle of the Sri Lankan people and government against LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam),” and “shies away from a call for accountability of the LTTE and its sponsors and financiers”.
Sri Lanka’s ambassador, C.A. Chandraprema, rejected the text as “unhelpful and divisive”. He argued it would “polarise Sri Lankan society and adversely affect economic development, peace and harmony.”