Sri Lanka foreign minister briefs diplomats ahead of tough UNHRC session

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister explained the progress related to human rights and reconciliation ahead of the upcoming 49th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which will commence in the last week of February.

Sri Lanka has been strongly criticized by international rights groups over repeated alleged violations of basic human rights using an anti-terrorism law known as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), whose repeal the UN and European Union have repeatedly called for.

Peiris said Sri Lanka has undertaken substantial steps with a view to accountability, restorative justice and meaningful reconciliation with the help of the Office for Reparations (OR), the Sustainable Development Council (SDC), Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

“The minister was particularly pleased to inform that after 43 years, the PTA is being amended with the objective of bringing it in line with international norms and best practices,” the ministry said in a statement.

It said the minister had added that substantive amendments to the PTA include amendments to the sections on detention orders, restriction orders, expressly recognising judicial review of orders, and  expeditious disposal of cases of those charged to avoid long term detention.

In addition, amendments also have been made to repeal sections impinging on freedom of expression and introduction of provisions on access to magistrates and judicial medical officers, prevention of maltreatment and torture during the detention period, right to communicate with the family, grant of bail to long term detainees and day to day hearing of cases, the foreign ministry said.

The minister’s briefing also comes weeks ahead of UNHRC meeting where Sri Lanka is expected to be heavily criticised for its inaction over past alleged human rights violations.

Diplomatic sources told EconomyNext that Sri Lanka could face strong criticism over the appointment of the One Country, One Law presidential task force headed by a controversial monk and the government’s lapses in probing the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage.

The country is also facing the risk of losing the annual GSP+ trade concession worth over 500 million US dollars from the European Union which helped the island nation thrive in garment and fish exports.

A loss of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) plus scheme would hit Sri Lanka’s economy hard. Sri Lanka is reeling with forex shortages, a looming debt crisis and an overall economic crisis which has made President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government unpopular.

Rajapaksa’s ruling nationalist Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) has rejected demand from the UN, EU, and international rights group to address past human rights violations, while antagonising western nations which had asked to probe alleged war crimes in the final phase of a 26-year war that ended in May 2009.

Some Western nations including the United States, Canada, and Germany have imposed travel sanctions on Sri Lanka’s top military leaders who have been accused of possible war crimes allegedly committed in the final weeks of the war.

The UNHRC has also been demanding many post war rights violations including curtailing freedom of expression and suppressing ethnic minority Muslims by arresting dissenters.

The foreign ministry said Minister Peiris had referred to recent developments relating to Hejaaz Hizbullah, a Muslim lawyer who had been detained since April 2020, and noted that the Attorney General (AG), who Peiris said filed the case under the PTA, has informed the Court of Appeal that he will not object to bail being granted to the accused.

He also said representatives of the Tamil and Muslim communities had been included in a Presidential Task Force on Archaeological Heritage Management.

Economy next.

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