UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in her oral update on Sri Lanka, said the emergency regulations enforced in Sri Lanka in recent times with the stated objective of ensuring food security and price controls, are very broad and may expand the further role of military role in civilian functions. She said her office would monitor the situation.
In her address made in Geneva, Switzerland, she raised concerns in a number of areas and acknowledged the inputs sent by the Sri Lankan government.
“The current social, economic and governance challenges faced by Sri Lanka indicate the corrosive impact that militarisation and the lack of accountability continue to have on fundamental rights, civic space, democratic institutions, social cohesion and sustainable development.
A new state of emergency was declared in Sri Lanka on 30 August, with the stated aim of ensuring food security and price controls, amid deepening recession. The emergency regulations are very broad and may further expand the role of the military in civilian functions. The Office will be closely monitoring their application,” she said.
“I also encourage the swift and public release of the reports of the national Commission of Inquiry that was appointed in January 2021, which I understand will complete its mandate by the end of this year, so that its work and recommendations can be assessed,” she said.
Refering to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent meetings with civil society leaders, she said regrettably, surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared hadnot only continued, but has broadened to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies.
“Several peaceful protests and commemorations have been met with excessive use of force and the arrest or detention of demonstrators in quarantine centres. New regulations on civil society groups are being drafted, and it is widely feared that they will further tighten restrictions on fundamental freedoms. I urge that the draft be made public to allow the broadest possible discussion.
I am concerned by developments in judicial proceedings in a number of emblematic human rights cases. They include the Attorney General’s decision not to proceed with charges against former Navy commander Wasantha Karannagoda in the case of the enforced disappearances of 11 men in 2008 and 2009,” she said.
The High Commissioner mentioned the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019 and religious leaders continue to call urgently for truth and justice, and a full account of the circumstances that permitted those attacks.
She cited the President’s recent pardon of a former member of parliament, Duminda Silva, who was convicted for killing a politician in 2011, also risks eroding confidence in the rule of law and judicial process.
“I am deeply concerned about further deaths in police custody, and in the context of police encounters with alleged drug criminal gangs, as well as continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials,” she said.
She called for a moratorium on the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
“The Government has reaffirmed its intention to revisit the Act and established a Cabinet sub-committee for this purpose. However, I am deeply concerned about the continued use of the Act to arrest and detain people. Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah has now been detained for 16 months under the Act without credible evidence presented before a court. Likewise, Ahnaf Jazeem, a teacher and poet, has been detained without charge since May 2020. I urge an immediate moratorium on the use of the Act, and that a clear timeline be set for its comprehensive review or repeal,” she said.
Lanka Newsweek © 2021