UN Calls for More Human Rights Reforms in Sri Lanka 

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is raising concerns about the lack of accountability in Sri Lanka after gross violations of human rights.

In a report, Bachelet said human rights violations and abuses were continuing to spread throughout the country. She attributed that to the failure of the government to carry out necessary reforms to its legal, institutional and security sectors. 

The high commissioner’s spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, said the government had shown some willingness to initiate reforms. However, she said the steps taken so far have done little to address past human rights violations or redress the harm done to victims.

Since the 1980s, an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 people from all ethnic and religious communities have disappeared. To this day, the fate of thousands of those who have gone missing remains unknown.

Call for reparations, justice

Shamdasani said the suffering of the families of the disappeared was immense and must be acknowledged by the government. She said that victims must receive reparations and that perpetrators of these crimes must be brought to justice.

“The reason why we are highlighting these issues is because we have very serious issues,” she said. “I mean, the militarization, the ethno-religious nationalism, the continued lack of accountability. And you couple that with a pattern of surveillance and harassment of those who try to speak out — civil society organizations, human rights defenders, journalists — and it is a recipe for further human rights violations.”

Shamdasani said the Prevention of Terrorism Act amendment bill, which was presented to parliament on February 10, was an important initial step. 

“We welcome the proposed increase of magistrates’ powers to visit places of detention, the speeding up of trials and the repeal of the section which imposes serious limitations on publications,” she said. “However, other proposed amendments do comply fully with Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations, and it leaves intact some of the most problematic provisions of the PTA, the Prevention of Terrorism Act.”

Shamdasani said the high commissioner had shared her concerns with the Sri Lankan government. She said the government had engaged constructively with her office and had made some relevant comments. 

The report will be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council, which begins a five-week session next week.

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