UN resolution hailed as ‘crucial turning point’ for victims of Sri Lanka civil war

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Civil rights groups have welcomed a UK-led UN resolution on Sri Lanka as a “crucial turning point for justice” for victims of the country’s nearly 30-year-long conflict.

The resolution, which ramps up international monitoring and scrutiny of the country, was passed on Tuesday by the human rights council after the UN high commissioner for human rights warned Sri Lanka could rapidly descend into violence unless decisive international action was taken. Michelle Bachelet expressed alarm over “worrying trends” in the country since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa took office in 2019 and last month told the human rights council the country had “closed the door” on ending impunity for past abuses.

It also mandates the UN human rights office (OHCHR) to gather and preserve evidence for future prosecutions and make recommendations to the international community on steps they can take to deliver on justice and accountability.

Lord Ahmad, the UK’s minister for south Asia, said: “Too many people in Sri Lanka are still waiting for justice more than a decade after the civil war ended, and the human rights situation is getting worse. The adoption of a UK-led resolution at the UN human rights council sends an important signal to Sri Lanka that progress on justice, accountability and human rights cannot wait.”

Hilary Power, Amnesty International’s representative in Geneva, said it was a “significant” move.

“Years of support and encouragement to Sri Lanka to pursue justice at the national level achieved nothing. This resolution should send a clear message to perpetrators of past and current crimes that they cannot continue to act with impunity.”

Amnesty has published several reports condemning Sri Lanka’s refusal to address historic crimes and the deteriorating human rights climate.

The real impact of further monitoring and reporting will rely on other UN member states using the resolution as a basis for “concrete action”, Power said, including investigations and prosecutions under universal jurisdiction and possible referral to the international criminal court.

We urge Sri Lanka to engage constructively with the OHCHR, to implement the recommendations of the report and to allow full and unfettered access to the country. Failing this, the human rights council may take more robust action, including the establishment of an independent accountability mechanism.”

Amnesty estimates 60,000 people disappeared during the 30-year conflict, which ended in 2009.

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