SL cannot achieve SDGs without inclusive, accountable institutions: Human Rights experts

The Sri Lankan Government has placed the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) high on its agenda; however, without transparent, effective, inclusive, and accountable institutions, goals such as ending poverty, ensuring education, and promoting economic growth cannot be fully achieved, a team of UN human rights experts said.

The independent experts published yesterday an assessment of the government’s follow-up to some 400 recommendations made following 10 official visits from 2015 to 2019. They called on the Human Rights Council to continue its efforts to increase independent human rights monitoring in the country and to ensure accountability.

“At the time of our visits, we witnessed an opening of space for Sri Lanka’s dynamic civil society, but this has once again become increasingly closed and unsafe,” they said, adding that using national security legislation to this effect was regrettable. An active and independent civil society is important for any democratic and peaceful society to ensure authorities hear the voice of the voiceless, the experts said.

The UN human rights experts have urged the Sri Lankan authorities to stop rolling back hard fought progress made in recent years on rebuilding democratic institutions, and to press for accountability for past crimes and deliver justice for victims and promote reconciliation between communities.

“We are dismayed at the emerging trends setting back the promotion of reconciliation, accountability and human rights, reducing civic space, and eroding important institutional safeguards for the protection of human rights, issues also raised in the High Commissioner’s report,” they said, pointing to the government’s increasingly majoritarian rhetoric.

“The Easter Sunday terrorist attacks in April, 2019, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, has put an enormous strain on the country—yet the national security-centred response to these crises and the accelerated trend towards militarisation of civilian public functions is alarming,” the experts said.

“Ethnic and religious minorities, namely Tamils and Muslims, have also been increasingly marginalised and stigmatised, especially during the pandemic. Moreover, the ongoing compulsory cremation of COVID-19 bodies against the religious and cultural rites of minority communities is concerning and must be ended,” the experts added.

“Despite the scale and magnitude of enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka, the authorities have failed to make progress in investigating these cases, identifying the whereabouts or fate of the victims, and holding perpetrators accountable,” they said.

Numerous recommendations made on the prohibition of torture, including repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act, remain unaddressed, the experts said. Prison reform appears to be on the Government’s agenda, but root causes remain to be addressed.

They said the Human Rights Council and Member States should therefore strengthen independent monitoring, analysis, and reporting of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and establish an impartial and independent international accountability mechanism which would seek to build upon the work conducted by different UN mechanisms by investigating, compiling, and analysing information.

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