3 Sri Lanka |
28. Sri Lanka was designated a country of concern
for the fifth consecutive year in the FCO's 2013 Report.
The Government noted some progress in post-conflict issues but
expressed "serious concerns" about the human rights
situation in the country, specifically:
· Restrictions on freedom of expression
· Intimidation and harassment of human right
· Attacks on journalists and further decline
in press freedom;
· A further decline in women's rights, including
the decision by the Government of Sri Lanka not to sign up to
the UN Declaration on the commitment to end sexual violence in
· The impeachment of the Chief Justice,
exacerbating concerns about the culture of impunity;
· Violence against religious minorities
and restrictions on freedom of religion; and
· Allegations of torture in police custody.
A number of these issues were echoed in a written
submission to our inquiry from the Global Tamil Forum.
The 2013 CHOGM in Colombo
29. The Prime Minister attended the Commonwealth
Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo in November 2013
despite pressure to boycott the event in order to register disapproval
of the repressive actions of the Government of Sri Lanka. In our
report last year on the FCO's human rights work in 2012, we noted
that the Government had chosen to attend despite scant evidence
of progress in political and human rights in Sri Lanka.
The FCO, in response to calls to boycott the event, said that
the "British delegation to CHOGM will
deliver a clear
message that Sri Lanka needs to make concrete progress on human
30. In our report last year, we also raised concerns
about the treatment of human rights defenders in Sri Lanka. We
recommended that the Prime Minister, prior to the CHOGM, should
obtain assurances from the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that
people who approached him to talk about human rights would not
face reprisals or harassment by security forces.
The FCO, in its response to our report, said that it had emphasised
to the Sri Lankan government that human rights defenders, journalists
and members of the public, who met with ministers during CHOGM,
should not face any reprisals. It is not clear to us from this
response whether the people who spoke with the Prime Minister
had faced reprisals or been subject to harassment: we recommend
that the FCO, in its response to this report, outline how it monitored
whether people who spoke with the Prime Minister about human rights
have faced reprisals, and whether the FCO has any knowledge of
reprisal attacks on people who met the British delegation during
its visit to Sri Lanka in November 2013.
UN inquiry into alleged violations
of international law
31. During the 2013 CHOGM, the Prime Minister called
on the Government of Sri Lanka to launch a credible domestic process
to ensure accountability for alleged violations and abuses of
international humanitarian and human rights law on both sides
during the country's civil war. The Prime Minister said that if
the Government of Sri Lanka did not take this step by March 2014,
the UK would use its position on the UN Human Rights Council to
seek an international investigation.
32. On 13 March 2014, the Government stated that
as no credible processes had been set up, "the time has now
come for international action on the human rights situation in
At the 25th Session of the UN Human Rights Council,
the UK, Macedonia, Mauritius, Montenegro and the USA jointly sponsored
a draft resolution on Sri Lanka, which was adopted on 27 March.
The resolution established an international inquiry, under the
auspices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
(OHCHR), into the allegations of human rights abuses during the
civil war, and called on the Government of Sri Lanka to make progress
on human rights and reconciliation. The Prime Minister, in responding
to the outcome of the vote at the UN Human Rights Council, said
that this was "a victory for the people of Sri Lanka".
Human Rights Watch described the UK as "one of the most effective
advocates" for an international investigation in the run-up
to the 25th session of the UNHRC, and welcomed the strong resolution
on Sri Lanka.
33. The Government of Sri Lanka has been vocal in
its criticism of Western countries for launching the investigation.
President Rajapakse said that "no-one knows why the West
is pushing for the investigation" and was convinced there
were "hidden agendas".
He insisted that his administration was being "bullied by
western powers over how it has handled its post-war reconstruction
and reconciliation efforts".
The Sri Lankan Minister for Mass Media, Keheliya Rambukwella,
stated that Sri Lanka would "take legal action against anyone
who testifies before this [OHCHR] commission, if the evidence
submitted by them is in violation of the country's Constitution".
Human rights organisations have reported that threats and attacks
against human rights defenders who have submitted information
to the UN have been "perpetrated with impunity".
The Sri Lankan Parliament has passed a government-backed resolution
not to allow the OHCHR investigation team into the country. At
the time of writing, the OHCHR investigation team has not been
granted visa entry into Sri Lanka.
UK policy on Sri Lanka
34. We asked Baroness Warsi what the UK was doing
about Sri Lanka's non-cooperation with the inquiry. She replied
that the UK was continuing with "international partners to
persuade and convince the Sri Lankans that it is in their interest
to co-operate with this report, but if they do not co-operate,
this report and this inquiry will still go ahead".
Baroness Warsi did not want to "speculate" on what might
happen if the investigation team did not get access to Sri Lanka.
35. The UK has been firm in promoting accountability
and justice in Sri Lanka but, as Baroness Warsi noted, the Commonwealth
is "divided on this issue".
Press reports support that Australia and India, for instance,
are not in favour of holding an international inquiry at this
stage. The change
of administration in India however provides the British Government
with an opportunity to garner support for the investigation from
a major regional and Commonwealth partner. We recommend that the
Government encourages the new Indian administration to give public
support to the OHCHR international investigation on Sri Lanka.
36. Despite the anti-Western rhetoric, the European
Union remains Sri Lanka's main export destination with trade flows
between the two coming to 3.5 billion, with a major trade
surplus of 1.1 billion in Sri Lanka's favour.
Sri Lanka had previously received preferential tariff benefits
under the EU's scheme for imports known as the Generalised Scheme
of Preferences Plus (GSP+).
GSP+ is one of three non-reciprocal, preferential import regimes
for developing countries under the EU's Generalised System of
Preferences (GSP). Under GSP+, the EU provides additional preferences,
beyond standard GSP treatment, to economically vulnerable developing
countries which have ratified and effectively implemented 27 international
conventions in the fields of human and labour rights, sustainable
development and good governance. The EU has temporarily withdrawn
GSP+ status from Sri Lanka for failing to implement effectively
three of these 27 international conventions.
Sri Lanka still benefits from favourable trade concessions to
the EU market through GSP, and the EU has no restrictive measures
in force on Sri Lanka.
37. Given the time that has passed since the launch
of the international inquiry, and the constraints placed on the
OHCHR team, we believe that the Government should be ready to
consider all possible options, including sanctions, to convince
Sri Lanka to allow access. We recommend that the Government negotiates
with its EU partners to remove GSP status from Sri Lanka, if the
Government of Sri Lanka does not allow the OHCHR investigating
team into the country and uphold the right of human right defenders
to engage with the UN human rights system.
50 FCO, Human Rights and Democracy: 2013 FCO Report,
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