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UN Rights Council greenlights Sri Lanka war crimes probe

March 23, 2021

The UN has approved a resolution to uncover evidence of human rights abuses committed during Sri Lanka's civil war. The council also expressed serious concerns over discrimination against Muslims and other minorities.

Sri lankan soldier guards a mosque
The UN has expressed serious concerns over the "increased marginalization" of Tamil and Muslim minorities in the country Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Samad

The UN Human Rights Council approved a mandate on Tuesday to collect information and evidence of war crimes committed during Sri Lanka's 37-year-long civil war in which thousands of civilians killed.

The 47-member council also adopted a resolution to address the "accelerating militarization of civilian government functions" in Sri Lanka, "the erosion of the independence of the judiciary", and "increased marginalisation" of Tamil and Muslim minorities.

The council pointed to "trends emerging over the past year, which represent a clear early warning sign of a deteriorating situation of human rights in Sri Lanka," adding it was "seriously concerned."

The resolution called on the office of UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to strengthen monitoring and reporting mechanisms on the country's human rights situation, including ongoing failure to ensure reconciliation and accountability for atrocities committed during the separatist war that ended in 2009.

Concerns over discrimination against Muslims

The resolution, proposed by the UK, Germany, Canada and other core countries, gives Bachelet and her team more power to investigate Sri Lanka with a view to future prosecutions.

The vote was 22 countries in favour, with 11 against, including China and Pakistan, and 14 abstentions including India.

The resolution also expressed  particular concerns that Sri Lanka's COVID-19 response had "exacerbated the prevailing marginalisation of and discrimination against the Muslim community."

Bachelet's office will be expected to present the findings to the council.

Sri Lanka slams resolution

Sri Lanka's diplomat denounced the resolution as politically motivated, reiterating the words of Foreign Minister Dinesh at the start of the current council session last month.  

The UN urged Colombo to review its Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which rights groups have said unfairly targets dissidents and minorities.

Last week, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced new rules under the PTA in the name of "de-radicalization" of religious extremists.

The measures would allow the detention of anyone suspected of causing "acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony."

mvb/aw (AFP, Reuters)