Sri Lanka’s next president faces major rights challenges, rights group says


Sri Lanka’s presidential election on November 16, 2019 will put on the winner the enormous challenges to deliver justice for past crimes and prevent future abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.

Since Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009, there has been progress on the right to free expression, but no accountability for war crimes and other abuses committed by both sides.

Sri Lanka’s next president needs to make real progress on the 25 human rights commitments, including accountability for war crimes, made in a 2015 consensus resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In March, Sri Lanka again joined a unanimous council resolution renewing its 2015 commitments. The resolution encourages the government of Sri Lanka to develop a “time-bound implementation strategy” for delivering on its commitments in full.

“Sri Lanka’s presidential election is certain to have important implications for human rights in the country, including justice for wartime violations,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director.

The Sri Lankan government has had a mixed record in carrying out the council resolution. Both an Office on Missing Persons and an Office for Reparations have been established, although neither is fully functioning. While serious concerns persist, there has been some progress on returning land occupied by the military during the conflict to its owners.

However, the government has not kept its pledge to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which has long been linked to indefinite arbitrary detention and torture.

Most crucially, the government has made no progress in its commitment to create a transitional justice mechanism to promote “reconciliation, accountability and human rights” in the country.

In March, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, told the Human Rights Council that in Sri Lanka: “there has been minimal progress on accountability. Continuing impunity risks fuelling communal or interethnic violence, and instability. Resolving these cases, and bringing the perpetrators of past crimes to justice, is necessary to restore the confidence of victims from all communities.”

“Sri Lanka’s next government will have its work cut out to meet the country’s human rights obligations,” Ganguly said. “No Sri Lankan should again have to live in fear of torture, enforced disappearance, or extrajudicial killings.” (Source: HRW)