UNHRC to Investigate Civil War in Sri Lanka

On March 27, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted to open an investigation in Sri Lanka, based on allegations of human rights abuses and other crimes related to the civil war in Sri Lanka that ended in 2009.

In a press release, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the resolution “reaffirms the commitment of the international community to support the Government of Sri Lanka as it pursues reconciliation and respect for human rights and democratic governance.”

In 2009, Sri Lanka’s 26-year- long and extremely bloody civil war ended when Sri Lanka’s military defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Earlier in March, Sri Lanka detained two well-known human rights activists for 48 hours under their anti-terrorism laws. The government has also denied allegations of human rights abuses, brought to them by various human rights groups.

The resolution calls on the UNHRC’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct an investigation in Sri Lanka based on allegations of human rights violations on both sides. The 47 members of the council voted 23 to 12 for the resolution, with 12 members choosing to abstain.

Kerry went on to say that the HRC is “deeply concerned by recent actions against some of Sri Lanka’s citizens, including detentions and harassment of civil society activists.”

Navi Pillay, the UNHRC high commissioner, had previously wanted to investigate human rights violations in the country because he believed that the country’s authorities had not made a great deal of progress in their own investigations.

This investigation has been called “long overdue,” as two years after the war ended in 2009, the HRC passed a resolution that commended Sri Lanka’s way of bringing the war to a close.

Prior to the vote on March 27, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the HRC Ravinatha Aryasinha was not in favor of the resolution that would open a new investigation. Aryasinha said that the resolution would be a “grave threat to the sovereignty of U.N. member states” and that the resolution also went against international law.

Pakistan’s ambassador Zamir Akram also protested the resolution claiming that it based on political motives rather than about human rights. Akram also questioned whether the UNHRC had the resources to open the investigation at all.

India chose to abstain from the vote, claiming that it was concerned about going forward with an independent investigation. This decision was off-putting, as many nations expected India to support the independent investigation. In the past, India supported “tamer” resolutions regarding the war and supported previous proposal to open investigations.

The UNHRC’s investigation will focus on the bloodshed and violations that occurred at the end of the war in Sri Lanka. It was reported that approximately 40,000 civilians were killed at the end of the war, largely due to military offensives.

Additionally, the resolution calls for continuous monitoring of human rights conditions in Sri Lanka. The United States has said that it is important to improve human rights in Sri Lanka in response to the continuing abductions, torture, and extrajudicial killings that are taking place.

– Julie Guacci

Sources: The New York Times, U.S. Department of State, BBC News
Photo: The Independent