Why The Global South Should Support UN Action on Sri Lanka
The economic, political, and human rights calamity gripping Sri Lanka has made news around the world, but its roots go back years – or even decades. In September, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, underscored in her report on Sri Lanka that “impunity for serious human rights violations [has] created an environment for corruption and the abuse of power.”
The UN Human Rights Council will soon consider a resolution to address this issue. Countries in the global south that serve on the council, – —including Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Namibia and Senegal, have an important role in supporting the people of Sri Lanka to address the current crisis and its underlying causes.
Between 1983 and 2009 Sri Lanka endured a devastating civil war between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The decades of brutality against civilians and the government’s continuing attempts to shield those responsible from justice, have cast a long shadow over the country. Both sides committed widespread violations of international law.
In the final months of the conflict in 2009, the LTTE used human shields, while tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed when government forces shelled no-fire zones and hospitals. As the war ended with the defeat of the LTTE and the destruction of its leadership, government forces were implicated in summary executions, rape, and enforced disappearances.
Since then, many Tamils have sought to learn what happened to those who did not return. In August, a group known as the Mothers of the Disappeared passed 2,000 days of continuous protests demanding to know the fate of their loved ones. Instead of receiving answers they have been subject to intimidation and surveillance by the government’s security apparatus. Nevertheless, representatives of the group have travelled to Geneva to ask the Human Rights Council to keep their hopes of justice alive.
Over many years, people from all of the country’s faiths and communities have taken their accounts of suffering and their search for justice to the Human Rights Council. As the prominent Sri Lankan activist Ruki Fernando recently wrote, “It is the inability to get truth and justice in Sri Lanka despite many efforts, and the subsequent loss of confidence and hope in domestic processes, that drive many Sri Lankans to Geneva.”
Successive Sri Lankan governments have appointed people allegedly responsible for these atrocities to high office, and blocked investigations, undermining the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. In one rare case in which a soldier was convicted of murder, the president pardoned him.
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