GENEVA – In response to a decade-long responsibility in the Sri Lankan civil war, the United Nations will assemble a team of investigators to gather evidence of atrocities and abuses, amid growing concerns over the government’s setback on human rights.
The Geneva Human Rights Council has decided to support a resolution led by Britain and Canada, which provides money for a team to gather and analyze evidence of abuse and also to “develop possible strategies” to to prosecute the perpetrators.
The resolution is the latest attempt to hold accountable for atrocities committed by a guerrilla group, the Tamil Tigers, and by the security forces during the 30-year civil war. In January, a report released by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for ‘international action to ensure justice for international crimes’ committed in the country.
Sri Lanka remains deeply plagued by the brutal civil war waged by its largely Sinhala government for 30 years against ruthless Liberation Tigers or Tamil Eelam guerrillas aimed at creating a separate state in the Tamil majority north of the island.
The vote on Tuesday was a diplomatic setback for Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
His government has been pushing hard for foreign governments in recent months to try to stop support for the initiative. It also took advantage of fierce intimidation of human rights groups at home and even oversight of diplomats trying to enter into dialogue with them.
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena condemned the resolution as an attempt by Western countries ‘to dominate the global south’.
Sri Lanka’s previous government has pledged to investigate atrocities and set up a court with international support to prosecute culprits. It was part of a move towards accountability and reconciliation that was intended to defuse ethnic tensions and reduce the risk of further violence.
But the process quickly came to a halt after the 2019 election of Mr. Rajapaksa, who was defense minister in the bloody closing phase of the civil war, when the UN estimated that thousands of civilians had died in indiscriminate shelling by the military.
The resolution of the Human Rights Council adopted on Tuesday also draws attention to a deterioration in Sri Lanka over the past year, with reference to harassment and intimidation of rights groups, increasing militarization of the government, the weakening of the independence of the judiciary, media restrictions and reports of torture. by security forces.
“The world has sent a message to the rulers of Sri Lanka that they cannot escape responsibility for international crimes,” John Fisher, director of Human Rights Watch in Geneva, said in a statement, “and they must now step back from increasing abuse. ”
The vote of the 47-member council to launch the inquiry was 22 to 11, with 14 abstentions.
The initiative follows, if on a more modest scale, former individuals who gather evidence of crimes against humanity in Syria and Myanmar who can support prosecution by an international tribunal or on the basis of universal jurisdiction.