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Statements and speeches Multiple Mechanisms

Sri Lanka update

11 September 2023

Delivered by

Nada Al-Nashif United Nations Deputy High Commissioner


54th session of the Human Rights Council


Geneva, Palais des Nations, Room XX

Interactive Dialogue on OHCHR report on Sri Lanka

Distinguished President,
Your Excellencies,
Colleagues and friends,

Pursuant to its resolution 51/1 of October 2022, the Council has been presented with the written update of High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka.

One year after the remarkable protest movement demanding deep political and democratic reforms , the transformation that was hoped for to address long-standing challenges has still not materialised. The country continues to deal with the aftermath of the deep economic crisis of 2022 and the current stresses in the global economy. Delays in holding local government elections and in reconstituting Provincial Councils under the 13th amendment have limited people’s right to political participation and the free expression of voters.

While the economic crisis has significantly affected the enjoyment of rights of large segments of the population in Sri Lanka, it has impacted the poor and the marginalized communities the most. As the country’s poverty rate has doubled from 13% in 2021 to 25% in 2022, another 2.5 million people have been driven into poverty and an estimated 37% of households face acute food insecurity.

A s the Government implements its economic recovery policies, it should be guided by its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to protect the most vulnerable. The international community, including international financial institutions, should keep supporting Sri Lanka in its recovery, in line with obligations around international cooperation and assistance, by providing the fiscal space needed while pressing for genuine progress in governance, transparency and accountability.

The economic hardship, the tensions around economic and structural reform policies and the delay of local elections continue to give rise to protests. Land acquisition in the north and east for expansion of military installations, Buddhist heritage conservation at Hindu or Muslim sites, and forestry protection have also escalated tensions.

Our Office continues to receive cases of misuse of tear gas and water cannons during demonstrations, affecting protestors and media personnel. Initiatives by victims to memorialise their loved ones have also been obstructed. These measures restricting the right to protest will only generate more tension in the country as they prevent people from expressing their grievances and engaging in critical debate. It is imperative that the Government ensures an environment that respects free expression, peaceful assembly, and democratic space as the basis for reconciliation and social cohesion.

The report provides an analysis of concerns with some forthcoming legislation, in particular the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill that will replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the new law to regulate media broadcasting. It urges a moratorium on the use of the PTA in the meantime, and for the review of long-standing PTA cases to be expedited.

Fourteen years since the war ended, tens of thousands of victims and their families continue to suffer in agony and grief as they await truth, justice , and remedy. The report recognizes the initiatives the Government has initiated to advance reconciliation, including its proposal for a new truth-seeking mechanism. However, it also stresses that urgent confidence building steps are needed to create an environment in which a genuine reconciliation and transitional justice processes could succeed.

These include meaningful and transparent consultations with victims and civil society on the current truth-seeking proposal and includes an end to all forms of harassment and unlawful and arbitrary surveillance against human rights defenders and victims’ groups, as well as support for initiatives to acknowledge and memorialize the experience of victims.

Truth-seeking alone will not be sufficient and must be accompanied by a clear commitment to accountability, including through an independent ad hoc special court.

The report recommends that the Government to a ccelerate investigations and prosecutions in emblematic cases of human rights violations, as well as the Easter Sunday bombings, in compliance with international human rights standards.The High Commissioner has repeatedly recommended the Government of Sri Lanka to establish a follow-up, independent and transparent investigation into the Easter Sunday attacks with international assistance and the full participation of victims and their representatives.

Mr. President,

While noting the Government’s rejection of resolutions 46/1 and 51/1, the report updates on the work of the accountability project established by our Office to collect, consolidate, analyze, and preserve relevant information and evidence and provide support to relevant judicial and other proceedings, including those in Member States, with competent jurisdiction. The project is receiving a steady increase in requests from competent State authorities, including in relation to 10 named individuals to date.

The project has made significant progress in developing a repository of information and evidence and based on identified gaps and priorities for further investigation . It is also actively engaging with civil society, including victims’ representatives.

Mr. President,

Accountability is central to secure Sri Lanka’s present and future. While it remains the obligation of the Sri Lankan authorities to acknowledge past violations and undertake credible accountability measures, this Council and the Member States can play an important and complementary role in advancing accountability.

My Office remains committed to supporting the Government and the people of Sri Lanka in advancing reconciliation, and accountability as well as the full enjoyment of human rights.