Core Group ready to help Sri Lanka prosecute corrupt public officials

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The Core Group on Sri Lanka has, in a draft resolution that is to be presented to the 51st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), called upon the government of Sri Lanka to address the ongoing economic crisis and help ensure it does not happen again by investigating and prosecuting corruption including by public and former public officials. It has stated that it is ready to assist and support independent, impartial, and transparent efforts in this regard.

The Core Group consists of the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Canada, Malawi, North Macedonia and Montenegro.The Core Group has expressed concern about the human rights impact of the economic crisis such as increased food insecurity, severe shortages of fuel and essential medicines, and reductions in household incomes.The group has also stressed the need to promote and protect the rights of the most marginalised and disadvantaged individuals including daily wage earners,

children, older persons, and persons with disabilities. They also “express concern over other human rights developments, since April 2022, including violence against and arrests of peaceful protesters, as well as violence against Government supporters, resulting in deaths, injuries, destruction and damage to houses of members of Parliament and stresses the importance of independent investigations into all attacks and for those found responsible to be held to account.”

The Core Group also said that they are concerned about the militarization of civilian government functions, the erosion of the independence of the judiciary and key institutions responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights; lack of progress in addressing longstanding grievances and demands of Tamil and Muslim populations; surveillance, intimidation and harassment of journalists, human rights defenders, families of the disappeared and persons involved in memorialization initiatives, and sexual and gender-based violence.

Given below are excerpts from the draft: “Stresses the importance of a comprehensive accountability process for all violations and abuses of human rights committed in Sri Lanka by all parties, including those abuses by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam; (46/1 OP4)

“Notes the persistent lack of independence, impartiality, and transparency of domestic mechanisms, and that emblematic human rights cases have been undermined through delays and the granting of Presidential pardon to those accused or convicted of crimes relating to grave violations of human rights; (New)

“Recognizes the importance of preserving and analysing evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka with a view to advancing accountability, and decides to extend and reinforce the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial and other proceedings, including in Member States, with competent jurisdiction; (46/1 OP6, slightly revised)

“Also expresses concern that the initial response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic had an impact on freedom of religion or belief and exacerbated the prevailing marginalization of and discrimination against the Muslim community, while acknowledging that cremations for those deceased from COVID-19 are no longer compulsory, urges for Muslims and members of other religions to be able to continue to practice their own burial religious rites; (46/1 OP8 updated)

“Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure the prompt, thorough and impartial investigation and, if warranted, prosecution of all alleged crimes relating to human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including for longstanding emblematic cases; (46/1 OP9)

“Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to address the ongoing economic crisis and help ensure it does not happen again, including by investigating and, where warranted, prosecuting corruption, including by public and former public officials, and stands ready to assist and support independent, impartial, and transparent efforts in this regard; (New)

“Stresses the importance of re-energising the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations, while noting that the tangible results expected by victims and other stakeholders are yet to be achieved, including resolving the many cases of enforced disappearances so that the families of disappeared persons can know their fate and whereabouts, as well as the importance of the effective and independent functioning of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka; (46/1 OP3 and OP10 –modified)

“Further calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to protect civil society actors, including human rights defenders, to investigate any attacks and to ensure a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance, surveillance, insecurity and threat of reprisals; (46/1 OP11)

“Takes note of the introduction of amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Act in March 2022, that detentions under this legislation continue to occur, and the Government’s expressed intention in this regard to introduce new legislation on combating terrorism, and encourages the Government to engage in consultations with civil society, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant UN Special Procedure Mandate holders in the preparation of new legislation, in order to ensure that any legislation on combating terrorism complies fully with the State’s international human rights law and international humanitarian law obligations; (46/1 OP12, updated)

“Urges the Government of Sri Lanka to foster freedom of religion or belief and pluralism by promoting the ability of all religious communities to manifest their religion, and to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society; (46/1 OP13)

“Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to continue to cooperate with the special procedures of the Human Rights Council, including by responding formally to outstanding requests from them; (46/1 OP14)

“Encourages the Office of the High Commissioner and relevant special procedure mandate holders to provide, in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Government of Sri Lanka, advice and technical assistance on implementing the abovementioned steps; (46/1 OP15)

“Requests the Office of the High Commissioner to enhance its monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, including on progress in reconciliation and accountability, and on the human rights impact of the economic crisis and corruption, and to present oral updates to the Human Rights Council at its fifty-third session and fifty-fifths sessions, and a written update at its fifty-fourth session and a comprehensive report that includes further options for advancing accountability at its fifty-seventh session, both to be discussed in the context of an interactive dialogue. (46/1 OP16)”

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