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Sri Lanka must work towards accountability, HR commitments – Bachelet

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She also called for the swift and public release of the reports of the National Commission of Inquiry that was appointed in January 2021, which will complete its mandate by the end of this year, so that its work and recommendations can be assessed.

Bachelet claimed that the current social, economic and governance challenges faced by Sri Lanka indicate the “corrosive impact” that alleged militarization and the lack of accountability continue to have on fundamental rights, civic space, democratic institutions, social cohesion and sustainable development.

Pointing to the State of Emergency declared on August 30 with the aim of ensuring food security and price controls, Bachelet stated that “the emergency regulations are very broad and may further expand the role of the military in civilian functions.” However, noting with interest the President’s recent meeting with some civil society leaders, Bachelet encouraged broader dialogue and steps to open Sri Lanka’s civic space.

“I encourage broader dialogue and steps to open Sri Lanka’s civic space. 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,” the UN High Commissioner said.

Referring to the Government’s efforts to draft new regulations on civil society groups, she noted that it is widely feared that such drafts will further tighten restrictions on fundamental freedoms and urged that the draft be made public to allow the broadest possible discussion.

“I am 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 added.

She also said that 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.

She also urged speedy resolution of long standing cases noting that in June, 16 prisoners who had been convicted under the problematic Prevention of Terrorism Act, and who were nearing the end of their sentences, were pardoned.

With regard to The Office of Missing Persons opening a sixth regional office in Kilinochchi, Bachelet urged for it to “inspire confidence among victims”.

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