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Interactive dialogue on OHCHR report on Sri Lanka: Statements by Canada, EU, India, New Zealand & USA

Interactive Dialogue on Report of OHCHR on Sri Lanka/ 12 September 2022.

Canada:

Canada welcomes the OHCHR’s written update on Sri Lanka.

Canada is deeply concerned that Sri Lanka’s ongoing political and economic crises will lead to further deterioration of human rights, with the greatest impacts on the most vulnerable, including women, youth, and the elderly. Recent violent attacks against those protesting peacefully is demonstrative of a persistent culture of impunity, as well as intimidation and surveillance of civil society and journalists.

Canada is troubled by the response to the mass protests that grew out of Sri Lanka’s ongoing crises, most notably the lack of progress on holding the perpetrators of the May 9th violence in Colombo accountable for their actions.

Canada was dismayed by the continued use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the subsequent arrest of three student protest organizers. It is crucial that fundamental democratic freedoms, such as the right to peacefully exercise freedom of expression, be respected and upheld.

Canada encourages Sri Lanka to use the current period to implement constructive changes that would enable the full functioning of a civilian-led government, strengthen the independence of the judiciary and national human rights institutions, engender respect for civil society, and enhance respect for human rights, the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, democracy and the rule of law.

Madame High Commissioner, Canada stands in solidarity with the peoples of the island. How can the international community work with Sri Lanka to advance reconciliation and bring an end to impunity, while promoting accountable government in support of lasting, meaningful change?

European Union:

Mr President,
The EU thanks the Office of the High Commissioner for the report, which we welcome. We reaffirm our commitment to Human Rights, reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.
The EU recognizes the challenges Sri Lanka is facing following months of protest and the recent change of government, while underlining the need of upholding all human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially freedom of opinion and expression of all persons in Sri Lanka, including persons and groups in vulnerable and marginalized situations. We also underline the need for effective and equal fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights of all.

The EU condemns the unwarranted use of force against peaceful demonstrators and calls upon Sri Lanka to suspend the Prevention of Terrorism Act until it is in full compliance with international human rights law and standards and calls for accountability and immediate acts to end impunity.

The EU encourages the government of Sri Lanka to remain engaged with the UN and international partners as well as fully cooperate with the High Commissioner. The EU will continue to support Sri Lanka’s efforts towards a fully inclusive dialogue on governance, rule of law, democratic values, and devolution and human rights.

India:

Madam Vice President,

I thank the Acting High Commissioner for her update.

India has always believed in the responsibility of States for promotion and protection of human rights and constructive international dialogue and cooperation guided by the principles of the UN Charter.

In this regard, the Indian delegation notes with concern the lack of measurable progress by Government of Sri Lanka on their commitments of a political solution to the ethnic issue- through full implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, delegation of powers to Provincial Councils and holding of Provincial Council elections at the earliest.
India’s consistent view on peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka has been for a political settlement within the framework of an united Sri Lanka, ensuring justice, peace, equality and dignity for the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

The current crisis in Sri Lanka has demonstrated the limitations of debt driven economy and the impact it has on the standard of living.

It is in Sri Lanka’s best interests to build capacity of its citizens and work towards their empowerment, for which devolution of power to the grassroots level is a pre-requisite. In this connection, operationalization of Provincial Councils through early conduct of elections will enable all citizens of Sri Lanka to achieve their aspirations for a prosperous future.

We therefore urge Sri Lanka to take immediate and credible action in this regard.

Thank you, Madam Vice President.

United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland:

Thank you Mr President,

The United Kingdom welcomes the High Commissioner’s comprehensive report.

We recognise the economic challenges facing Sri Lanka, and the hardships these have caused.

In coming together to protest about the economic situation, Sri Lanka’s people exercised their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and freedom of expression. We are dismayed that in response, violence was used against protesters. We are deeply concerned about the arrest and ongoing detention of protestors under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and continue to call for reform of the Act.

We are also concerned about reports of continued militarisation and intimidation impacting on communities in the north and east, including on families of the disappeared. We regret the limited progress made on accountability and justice as requested in HRC resolution 46/1. The domestic reconciliation and accountability process promised in 2020 has not emerged. For these reasons, OHCHR’s work collecting and preserving evidence must continue.

We welcome Sri Lanka’s recent commitments on respect for the rights of those from all religious and ethnic groups, including through political inclusion and constitutional reform. We stand ready to continue dialogue and support Sri Lanka with this and with the promised approaches to accountability, justice and reconciliation.

Thank You.

New Zealand:
Mr President,

Aotearoa New Zealand thanks the High Commissioner’s Office for the report and welcomes the continued attention of the Council on the situation in Sri Lanka, including the renewal of the mandate of the High Commissioner.

New Zealand notes that the report references the impact of the current economic crisis in Sri Lanka on human rights. New Zealand continues to support Sri Lanka and its international partners to address all impacts of the crisis.

New Zealand notes the largely peaceful response of authorities to large-scale protests during the first half of 2022. However, we are concerned by the recent hardening of the Sri Lankan Government’s approach to protestors. New Zealand urges Sri Lanka to ensure full protections for freedom of expression and peaceful protest.

We note that some progress has been made with regards to amending the Prevention of Terrorism Act. We urge Sri Lanka to uphold its commitment to a de-facto moratorium on arrests under the legislation; and to replace the Act with new legislation which aligns with Sri Lanka’s human rights obligations.

New Zealand agrees that accountability measures are critical for enduring peace and prosperity. We urge Sri Lanka to work with the High Commissioner and other partners to strengthen domestic accountability measures, including for historic human rights violations.

Thank you.

USA:

Thank you, Madam Vice President.

The United States is committed to supporting the Sri Lankan people in their efforts to strengthen their democracy. We recognize the profound economic and political challenges the country is facing, and we welcome the government’s efforts at reform.

The rule of law, equal access to justice, independent institutions, transparency, and accountability are pillars of democratic systems.

We value the HRC’s attention to and engagement on Sri Lanka, including the OHCHR’s recent report and its efforts to help survivors and the families of missing persons.

We urge respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including rights to peaceful assembly and expression. We call for accountability for protest-related violence in line with rule of law and equal access to justice.

It is essential that the Prevention of Terrorism Act align with international human rights obligations and commitments, to protect fair trial guarantees and other applicable legal protections. As a key step toward improved human rights, it is also important to address longstanding impunity and corruption in Sri Lanka.

We will continue to support justice, accountability, and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

Madam Acting Deputy High Commissioner: How can we best support Sri Lanka’s political reform efforts and ensure they are representative, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of all, including members of minority groups?

I thank you.

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