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Sri Lanka: IBAHRI calls for increased vigilance from international community following UN Resolution


AStudent protest, Sri Lanka
With the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) having voted to open an international investigation into alleged war crimes by both the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the final stages of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls for increased vigilance by the international community following an escalation in threats to human rights defenders.

IBAHRI Co-Chair Baroness Helena Kennedy QC commented, ‘The IBAHRI welcomes the adoption of the UNHRC resolution to establish an international investigation into war crimes and human rights violations in Sri Lanka. However, while the UNHRC sessions have been underway in Geneva, there has been a sharp increase in the number of reported cases of intimidation and detention of human rights defenders in Sri Lanka. These reports are of great concern and we urge the international community to increase vigilance over the situation.’ She added, ‘Also, the IBAHRI has received disturbing in-country reports of defence lawyers being publicly linked to alleged LTTE revival activists. This is a worrying development contradicting the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which clearly states that “Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions”’.
The UNHRC resolution passed on 27 March 2014, with a majority vote of 23 to 12, calls on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged human rights violations and related crimes by both sides during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
IBAHRI Co-Chair Sternford Moyo said,  ‘The UNHRC resolution is a major step forward in breaking the cycle of impunity and offering hope to victims on both sides of the conflict in Sri Lanka.  However, in order to build sustainable peace and restore public confidence in the rule of law in the country, it is essential that the Government of Sri Lanka cooperates fully with the investigation, and we urge them to do so.
  1. The UNHRC draft resolution ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka‘ [A/HRC/25/L.1] is available to download here.
  2. Information on recent detentions: On 16 March 2014, prominent human rights activists Mr Ruki Fernando and Reverend Praveen Mahesan were detained in Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka, under anti-terrorism legislation. Mr Fernando is human rights adviser to the Sri Lankan human rights organisation INFORM and Reverend Mahesan is former director of the Sri Lankan Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. Mr Fernando and Reverend Mahesan appeared before the Colombo Magistrate Court on 18 March 2014 and were subsequently released on bail. The arrest of Mr Fernando and Reverend Mahesan has been connected to the Government of Sri Lanka’s investigations into attempts to revive the LTTE cadres. However, international media is linking the arrest to attempts made by Mr Fernando and Reverend Mahesan to find out information relating to the arrest of fellow activist Balendran Jeyakumari on 13 March 2014. Ms Jeyakumari is a prominent activist, arrested under anti-terrorism legislation and remains in detention. On the day of her arrest, she was campaigning for the release of missing persons since the end of the conflict.
  3. The IBAHRI, in collaboration with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), produced a briefing note on key points regarding the incapacity of Sri Lanka’s domestic justice system to provide redress for war crimes and human rights violations, and the need to establish an international accountability mechanism.

    Click here to download the IBAHRI/ICJ briefing note – English language version.

    Click here to download the IBAHRI/ICJ briefing note – Spanish language version.

    Click here to download the IBAHRI/ICJ briefing note – Arabic language version.

  4. The International Bar Association (IBA), established in 1947, is the world’s leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, US, while the International Bar Association’s International Criminal Court Programme (IBA ICC) is managed from an office in The Hague.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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