UN resolution flags Sri Lanka rights abuses, economic crisis

The UN Human Rights Council renews mandate to collect and preserve evidence of atrocities during the decades-long civil war.

Sri Lanka
A father and son share a meal at their shanty in Colombo [File: Eranga Jayawardena/AP]

The United Nations Human Rights Council has renewed its mandate to collect and preserve evidence of alleged wartime human rights crimes in Sri Lanka, despite opposition from Colombo and its allies, including China.

In a resolution passed at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Thursday, the global body also called on Sri Lanka to get a grip on its economic crisis and prosecute corruption by public officials.

The 19-point resolution was brought by 37 countries including Britain, Canada and the United States and was passed with 20 votes in favour and seven against.

Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Ali Sabry said his country “categorically” rejects the outcome of the vote and argued the resolution was “presented without our consent, despite our efforts to engage with the main sponsors”.

Ahead of the vote, Sabry had made Sri Lanka’s case for a “no” vote in Geneva in person.

“We strongly object to the draft resolution pronouncing on domestic, economic and financial policy matters,” he said.

“Solutions to economic and financial crises faced today by many countries will not be found in the mandate, instruments or expertise of this council.”

China, a close ally of Sri Lanka, voted against the resolution, which it called an example of “politicisation” of human rights issues. Pakistan called the resolution “intrusive”.

Sri Lanka’s neighbour India, which has extended the most financial support during the island’s financial crisis this year, abstained.

The resolution renews the mandate of the UN rights office to observe Sri Lanka’s progress towards establishing a credible investigation into alleged war crimes during the civil war that ended in 2009 and promotes the demilitarisation of its north and eastern regions.

It also calls for the government to investigate and prosecute former and current public officials who triggered the country’s worst financial crisis in more than seven decades, plunging the population of 22 million into soaring inflation, currency depreciation and severe food and fuel shortages.

It mandates the UN rights office to prepare a comprehensive report for release in 2024, essentially giving Sri Lanka two more years to meet its obligations.

Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez, reporting from Colombo, said Sri Lanka objected to paragraph eight of the resolution which strengthened a mechanism to record and gather evidence against Sri Lankan officials for use in legal proceedings.

“This, Sri Lanka and its allies say, goes way beyond the remit of the United Nations’ founding principles,” she said.

The vote follows a report by the UN High Commissioner released in September, addressing the underlying causes of the financial crisis, “including impunity for human rights violations and economic crimes” by officials.

Rights group Amnesty International welcomed the UN resolution but said more needed to be done.

“The adoption of the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution reflects the need for continuing international scrutiny on Sri Lanka,” said its deputy regional director for South Asia, Dinushika Dissanayake.

Court allows proceedings against Rajapaksas

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court on Friday granted permission for proceedings against former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, according to Transparency International, the rights group which filed the case against him.

The group said the court also agreed to allow proceedings against his elder brother and former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and former finance minister Basil Rajapaksa.

The total number of people to take part in the proceedings will be 39, including two of the country’s former central bank governors. The case calls for accountability for the island’s leadership for the financial crisis.

President Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka in the early hours of July 13 after protests engulfed Colombo and demonstrators angry with the country’s economic devastation stormed his official residence and office.

He resigned a few days later and returned to the country in early September.

Sri Lanka’s population has endured acute shortages of food, fuel and medicines along with hyperinflation and lengthy electricity blackouts since late last year.

The island ran out of foreign exchange and defaulted on its $51bn foreign debt in April. It has since been negotiating a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

New President Ranil Wickremesinghe has taken a hard line against the protesters and has even used tough anti-terror laws to arrest some of them.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies