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Sri Lanka’s economic crisis a result of past impunity for human rights abuses and economic crimes: UN report

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis a result of past impunity for human rights abuses and economic crimes: UN report

The report, prepared by the UN Rights High Commissioner Michele Bachelet, was released on Tuesday, also suggested fundamental changes to address the current challenges and to avoid repetition of the human rights violations of the past.

This is also the first time that the top UN body has linked the economic crisis with Sri Lanka’s gross human rights violations. (Photo: AP) This is also the first time that the top UN body has linked the economic crisis with Sri Lanka’s gross human rights violations. (Photo: AP)

Sri Lanka is facing a “devastating” economic crisis, a UN report has said, noting that “impunity” for past and present human rights abuses, economic crimes and corruption were the underlying causes for the island nation’s collapse.

The report, prepared by the UN Rights High Commissioner Michele Bachelet, was released on Tuesday, also suggested fundamental changes to address the current challenges and to avoid repetition of the human rights violations of the past.

Interestingly, it comes ahead of the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council Session, to be held in Geneva from September 12 to October 7, where a resolution on Sri Lanka is expected to be tabled.

This is also the first time that the top UN body has linked the economic crisis with Sri Lanka’s gross human rights violations.

“For sustainable improvement, it is vital to recognise and assist Sri Lanka to address the underlying factors, which have contributed to this crisis, including embedded impunity for past and present human rights abuses, economic crimes and corruption,” the report said.

The broad-based demands by Sri Lankans from all communities for accountability and democratic reforms presented “an important starting point for a new and common vision for the future,” it said.

“Fundamental changes will be required to address the current challenges and to avoid repetition of the human rights violations of the past,” the report said.

Sri Lanka is going through its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 which was triggered by a severe paucity of foreign exchange reserves.

Last week, the IMF announced that it will provide Sri Lanka a loan of about USD 2.9 billion over four years under a preliminary agreement to help the bankrupt island nation tide over its worst economic crisis and protect the livelihoods of the people.

The UN report called on the Ranil Wickremesinghe-led government to immediately end the reliance on draconian security laws and crackdowns on peaceful protests, reverse the drift towards militarisation and show renewed commitment to, and deliver on, security sector reform and ending impunity.

In July, Wickremesinghe imposed a state of emergency after his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned from his post following massive anti-government protests over the government's mishandling of the economy.

Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said earlier this week that Sri Lanka will oppose a new resolution on its human rights accountability, especially an external investigation mechanism, at the UN Human Rights Council session.

Sabry said Sri Lanka was adopting a policy of engagement on rights accountability bilaterally and multilaterally and was looking for a lasting solution.

A possible draft resolution on Sri Lanka is expected to be presented on September 23.

This would be followed by a vote among the member states on the new draft resolution on October 6.

The UN rights body since 2013 has adopted resolutions calling for rights accountability for war crimes blamed both on the government troops and the LTTE group that ran a violent campaign to create a separate state for the Tamil minority in the north and east regions.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the now ousted former president, at that time ruthlessly ended Sri Lanka's nearly 30-year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with the death of its supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran in 2009.

The former defence secretary, who stands accused of violating human rights, vehemently denies the charge.

Then-president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the elder brother of Gotabaya, on May 18, 2009 declared the end of the 26-year war in which over 1,00,000 people were killed and millions of Sri Lankans, mainly minority Tamils, displaced as refugees inside the country and abroad.

Another resolution initiated in 2015, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, called upon the country to establish a credible judicial process with the participation of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorised prosecutors and investigators.

Sri Lanka, however, consistently opposed the idea.

In a 2021 resolution, the UN rights body rejected the domestic mechanism proposed by the then Gotabaya Rajapaksa government.

The 2021 resolution was adopted with 22 votes for and 11 siding with Sri Lanka, including China.

There were 14 abstentions including India.