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International community ‘must maintain fullest scrutiny of Sri Lanka’ say NGOs

A coalition of international non-governmental organisations has called on ambassadors of UN Human Rights Council Member States to maintain scrutiny of Sri Lanka on issues of justice and accountability.

In a letter written to ambassadors on Friday, the organisations said that despite a delay in releasing the report of a UN investigation into mass atrocities committed during the final phase of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, there is “serious concern that there has been no visible progress in these areas till date”.

“In the last few months, the government has expressed its categorical unwillingness to allow international investigations within Sri Lanka, and has thus far not publicly demonstrated real cooperation with the UN High Commissioner by providing access to information relevant for the report,” said the letter.

Signatories of the letter included Forum Asia, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Human Rights Law Centre, International Commission of Jurists, International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, International Service for Human Rights and the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.

It went on to state that “recent actions by the government raise serious concerns about its intentions towards genuine justice and accountability,” citing the promotion of accused war criminal Major General Jagath Dias to Chief of Staff of Sri Lanka's army.

“Moreover, members of both the Rajapaksa and Sirisena Presidencies, as well as leading members of the major political parties currently contesting Parliamentary elections, were in positions of authority during significant periods of the armed conflict and may have personal vested interests in deflecting accountability concerns,” the letter added.

Sri Lanka faces key tests ahead of September 2015, said the NGOs, noting that it must ensure that any investigative process is international, ensure it resolves outstanding issues such as militarisation in the North and East and allow full access to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate massacres that took place.

“Until these three tests are satisfactorily met, the international community and the UN Human Rights Council must maintain the fullest scrutiny of Sri Lanka on questions of justice and accountability,” said the NGOs, noting that “many challenges still remain unaddressed”.

“In the hurry to acknowledge changes, member states of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN as a whole should not let go of the many fundamental challenges that remain,” they concluded. “To do so would amount to losing sight of the forest for the trees.”

See the full text of the letter here.