Statement by Sri Lanka during the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non- recurrence at the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council was made by Ms Dayani Mendis, Actg. Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva on 17 September 2020

5th Session of the Human Rights Council

Agenda Item 3:

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of

truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non- recurrence

17 September 2020

Madam President,

As this Council is aware, in November last year, the people of Sri Lanka gave a resounding mandate to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to pursue a policy framework aimed at achieving the fourfold outcome of “a productive citizenry, a contented family, a disciplined and just society and a prosperous nation.”

The people of Sri Lanka gave a second mandate at the General Election held last month, with an unprecedented percentage of 59.09%, for the first time in the history in an election held under the Proportional Representation System. This is a re-endorsement of the first mandate and a clear signal of their support for a path forward for the country, towards prosperity while safeguarding the people and protecting the sovereignty of the country without succumbing to any force.

At a time when even the most powerful countries in the world were left helpless in the wake of COVID – 19 pandemic, Sri Lanka was able to successfully face the challenge by containing the spread of COVID-19, thanks to a well-coordinated mechanism of preventive measures at the national level assisted by a robust local healthcare system.

Madam President,

The GoSL has taken number of measures to mitigate the challenges posed by COVID-19, which include, financially supporting low income families, pensioners and differently-abled, day-income earners and farmers, managing the repatriation of Sri Lankans in a coordinated manner, exploring avenues of business to create new economic trends while supporting existing industries and moving forward to the use of the digital technology including to connect the farmer, consumer and supplier, delivery of essential items and services, and distant education.

The WHO has commended Sri Lanka’s efforts to control COVID-19 more effectively even with modest means, than more resourced countries thanks to a well-established public health system, and the proactive action that has been taken by the Government. We are the first in South Asia to have successfully conducted Parliamentary elections early last month during the pandemic, according to health guidelines, with a 71% voter turnout. Sri Lanka was among the first countries in South Asia to open schools to bring children back in safety this month, as commended by UNICEF. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has recently stamped Sri Lanka as a safe haven for tourists.

Madam President,

When the Government took office last year, the confidence of the people in the security of the country had been severely dented due to the Easter Sunday attacks that occurred in 2019.The President emphasized in his policy statement at the opening session of the new Parliament on 20 August that the prime focus of this Government is national security, with the aim of creating “an environment where any citizen can live freely without any fear for the safety of themselves and their families”.

The Policy Framework of the Government will be based on three main pillars of its vision for future, i.e. national security, friendly, non-aligned foreign policy and people-centric economic development.

In line with the above vision, a number of measures have been taken to uplift the rural economies, address socio-economic issues at ground level, including protecting the people against social evils such as organized crime and the drug menace, as follows:

o        The Presidential Task Force in charge of Economic Revival and Poverty Eradication was established with the objective to steer the relevant institutes to create a production economy through the formulation of a unique economic structure based on novel initiatives, implementation of joint operations to establish a people-centric economy which will promote domestic industrialists and entrepreneurs and taking measures to distribute products in liaising with all the institutes while paying attention to the activities undertaken by the health and education task forces to maintain normalcy in the civilian life.

o        The Presidential Task Force to build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society was established in line with the most prominent responsibility of the government to give priority to National Security and to create a virtuous, disciplined and lawful society which respects the rule of law and justice, recognizing that the security of the country is a key factor in establishing economic strategies aimed at the development of a country emphasizing the equal protection of the law.

Madam President,

–               In line with the utmost priority to address poverty and inequality, a programme to provide employment for 100,000 persons representing the most underprivileged families in the country from all communities has been set in motion. Simultaneously, plans are being implemented to provide job opportunities to 60,000 graduates and train them to render their services efficiently.

–               With the objective of having people-centric economy for the economic revival, when forming ministries, special attention was given in assigning their subjects and tasks to cover fields such as agriculture, plantations, fisheries, traditional industries and promotion of self-employed job opportunities which affect most of the people in the country.

–               As human resource development has been identified as a priority, the subject of education has been brought under one Ministry and four State Ministers were appointed for different responsibilities therein. Separate State Ministries for Pre-School, Education Reforms, Skills Development as well as Dhamma School and Bhikku Education have been set up due to their importance.

–               The draft 20th Amendment to the Constitution submitted through the Parliament will be discussed, debated, following a complete democratic process, where all stakeholders will have the opportunity to present their views.

Madam President,

Sri Lanka takes note of the issues highlighted in the Report of Mr. Pablo de Grieff, former Special Rapporteur and wishes to reiterate its position highlighted at the 43rd Session of this Council in March, when it announced its withdrawal from co-sponsorship of Resolution 30/1, that it remains committed to achieving reconciliation, accountability and human rights within the framework of the Sri Lankan Constitution, through a domestically designed and executed process in line with the Government’s policy framework.

Today, Sri Lanka wishes to engage in a constructive discussion with this august assembly with the sincere hope that this Council would recognize the realities on the ground, and facilitate the required space for the GOSL to move forward with an inclusive approach within the provisions and parameters of the Constitution of the country, as explained to this Council during its 43rd Session. Sri Lanka would like to state further that the new Government which assumed office with the election of the new Parliament on 5 August remains committed to the assurances given before this Council in February this year.

The Government will look at deliverable measures of reconciliation as backed by the mandates given by the people, in the interest of Sri Lanka, instead of opting to continue with a framework driven externally that has failed to deliver genuine reconciliation for over four and half years.

Madam President,

As mentioned by Hon. Foreign Minister during the 43rd Session of this Council, we hope the Council would appreciate the approach of the Government to achieve a sustainable peace through an inclusive, domestically designed and executed reconciliation and accountability process, that are in line with the interest of Sri Lanka and its people.

The Government will work towards addressing the outstanding concerns in a manner consistent with its voluntary obligations under the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, aimed at advancing individual and collective rights, ensuring justice and reconciliation, and addressing the concerns of vulnerable sections of the society, through due democratic and legal processes including institutional reform where necessary.

Madam President,

It is noted that the Report fails to adequately and positively portray the significant progress achieved in respect of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence since the visit of the Special Rapporteur and hence is not a reflection on the situation currently prevalent in Sri Lanka. Further it fails to note the progress made in promulgating legislation and the progressive steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence to all communities.

It is also noted that the report has failed to note the role of the Attorney General in a common law jurisdiction as opposed to a civil law jurisdiction and that the Attorney General is required to exercise powers, duties and functions within the parameters of the Constitutional and statutory mandate in terms of the law. In this context it must be noted that the Attorney General of Sri Lanka as the leader of the Bar and the highest Legal Officer of the State, has a duty to Court, to the State and to the subject to be wholly detached, wholly independent and to act impartially with the sole object of establishing the truth.

Accordingly reference to the role of the Attorney General has been misconstrued and misconceived and the references made in the report to the Office of the Attorney General are without any justification or legal basis.

Madam President,

With regard to alleged “intimidating visits”, “forms of surveillance”, “complaints of harassment” referred, we wish to reiterate our invitation to the parties concerned to make formal complaints to law enforcement authorities or to independent national institutions such as the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka or the National Police Commission, so that action can be taken to investigate the alleged incidents. The Government has already publicly refuted these allegations, and is committed to protecting and promoting freedom of expression and civil society space, and ensuring that complaints received on alleged attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and civil society are investigated and prosecuted.

At the same time, we consider it pertinent to caution this Council about certain segments who attempt to fabricate false narratives of intimidation and harassment by the State, which the Government of Sri Lanka has, of late, successfully disproved with solid evidence.

We also reiterate that, apart from operating routine security networks in the interest of national security, particular after the devastating Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, the Security Forces and intelligence agencies are not engaged in monitoring any specific group of people in the country. We believe for any country, compromising its national security interests amidst looming sophistication of strategies of radical and extreme elements world around, is bound to face regrettable consequences. Hence, the GoSL requests all parties to be mindful of that ground reality in this context.

In conclusion, the Government of Sri Lanka will continue its engagement with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Human Rights mechanisms, and work in close cooperation with the international community, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.

Thank you.