President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent pardon of a former MP Duminda Silva, who was sentenced to the death for killing Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra in 2011 risks eroding confidence in the rule of law and judicial process in the country, Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights today (13) said.
Delivering the Oral Update on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka at 48th session of the Human Rights Council, Bachelet said that she also concerned by developments in judicial proceedings in a number of emblematic human rights cases.
“They include the Attorney General’s decision not to proceed with charges against former Navy commander Wasantha Karannagoda in the case of the enforced disappearances of 11 men in 2008 and 2009,” she said.
Bachelet noted that the current social, economic and governance challenges faced by Sri Lanka indicate the corrosive impact that militarisation and the lack of accountability continue to have on fundamental rights, civic space, democratic institutions, social cohesion and sustainable development.
“A new state of emergency was declared in Sri Lanka on 30 August, with the stated aim of ensuring food security and price controls, amid deepening recession. The emergency regulations are very broad and may further expand the role of the military in civilian functions. The Office will be closely monitoring their application,” she added.
Speaking further, the UN High Commissioner said that regrettably, surveillance, intimidation and judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and families of the disappeared has not only continued, but has broadened to a wider spectrum of students, academics, medical professionals and religious leaders critical of government policies.
Several peaceful protests and commemorations have been met with excessive use of force and the arrest or detention of demonstrators in quarantine centres, she pointed out.
Morover, Bachelet said that she is deeply concerned about further deaths in police custody.
“New regulations on civil society groups are being drafted, and it is widely feared that they will further tighten restrictions on fundamental freedoms. I urge that the draft be made public to allow the broadest possible discussion.
Despite various inquiries, the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019 and religious leaders continue to call urgently for truth and justice, and a full account of the circumstances that permitted those attacks.”
In her speech, the UN High Commissioner said that she is also concerned about the continued use of the Act to arrest and detain people.
“Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah has now been detained for 16 months under the Act without credible evidence presented before a court. Likewise, Ahnaf Jazeem, a teacher and poet, has been detained without charge since May 2020. I urge an immediate moratorium on the use of the Act, and that a clear timeline be set for its comprehensive review or repeal,” she said.
“I encourage the swift and public release of the reports of the national Commission of Inquiry that was appointed in January 2021, which I understand will complete its mandate by the end of this year, so that its work and recommendations can be assessed,” she said.
She urged the Council members to continue paying close attention to developments in Sri Lanka, and to seek credible progress in advancing reconciliation, accountability and human rights.