Press briefing notesOffice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Press briefing notes on Sri Lanka
25 February 2022
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
GENEVA (25 February 2022) - In a new report* for the UN Human Rights Council on developments in Sri Lanka since last year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet recognizes recent steps taken to initiate reforms but expresses deep concern over a number of human rights trends in the country.
While we recognize the renewed willingness of the Government of Sri Lanka to engage constructively with our Office, including in the preparation of the report, we urge the Government to go much further with the legal, institutional and security sector reforms necessary to comply with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations.
In the past year, we have observed setbacks to accountability for past human rights violations and recognition of victims’ rights. The High Commissioner highlights particularly the continuing precarious situation of the families of the disappeared – the majority of whom are represented by women. We urge the Government to acknowledge their sufferings, urgently determine the fate or whereabouts of victims, provide reparations, and bring perpetrators to justice.
The report also highlights continuing trends toward militarization and ethno-religious nationalism that undermine democratic institutions, increase the anxiety of minorities, and impede reconciliation.
The pattern of surveillance and harassment by security forces of civil society organizations, human rights defenders, journalists and victims highlighted in previous reports has also continued, particularly in the country’s north and east.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) Amendment Bill, which was presented to Parliament on 10 February, is an important initial step. The High Commissioner welcomes the proposed increase of magistrates’ powers to visit places of detention, the speeding up of trials and the repeal of section 14 which imposes serious limitations on publications.
However, other proposed amendments do not comply fully with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations and leave intact some of the most problematic provisions of the PTA, which have led to alleged human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and and torture.
While we welcome the release since June of more than 80 suspects detained under the PTA, we urge the authorities to impose a moratorium on continued use of the law.
Sri Lanka will only achieve sustainable development and peace and lasting reconciliation if it ensures civic space, independent and inclusive institutions, and puts an end to systemic impunity.