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Sri Lanka in 'early stages of renewal', says UN rights chief

Graphic: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights meets with Commission members

During his four-day visit, Mr. Zeid met with senior government officials and the new leadership team of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.

After nearly 30 years of conflict and acrimony that not only cost tens of thousands of lives but also eroded vital components of the State, Sri Lanka is still in the early stages of renewal, the United Nations human rights chief said today, ending a mission to the country.

"Virtually everyone agrees there has been progress, although opinions differ markedly about the extent of that progress," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement to the press, issued from Colombo.

During his four-day visit, Mr. Zeid met with several senior Government officials, including President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. In Colombo, he visited the Task Force that will lead the forthcoming National Consultations on transitional justice and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka.


One of the most important long-term achievements over the past year has been the restoration of the legitimacy and independence of Sri Lanka's Human Rights Commission.

 Logo Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

"One of the most important long-term achievements over the past year has been the restoration of the legitimacy and independence of Sri Lanka's Human Rights Commission," said Mr Zeid.

"The appointment of new leadership of great integrity, through the proper constitutional process, offers a new start to revitalise this all-important national institution.

"I hope the Government will now swiftly provide it with the resources, and above all the institutional respect it needs, to enable it to fulfil its great potential, not only to provide human rights protection for all Sri Lankans, but also to offer expert advice on laws and policies from a human rights perspective."

Noting that Sri Lanka has come a long way in the past year with the media now having greater freedom, Mr. Zeid said the element of fear has considerably diminished, at least in Colombo and the South, but in the North and the East, "it has mutated but, sadly, still exists."

On the positive side, he highlighted several recent "highly symbolic steps" that have had a positive impact on inter-communal relations, including the decision to sing the national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil on Independence Day, for the first time since the early 1950s.

On the proposed Constitutional reform, which should ensure that the rights of all Sri Lankans are fully recognised, Mr. Zeid said there are fears that at a later stage this may be achieved "at the expense of other equally important processes such as truth-telling, justice and accountability."

Meanwhile, he said issues relating to implementation of a resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council last October were high on his agenda during this trip. Co-sponsored by Sri Lanka and agreed with the consensus of all 47 Council members, it laid out an "eminently sensible pathway for the country to follow".

The acceptance of the resolution was a moment of strength, not weakness, by Sri Lanka" he insisted, adding that it was the country's commitment to both itself and to the world to confront the past honestly and, in doing so, guard against any future devastating outbreak of inter-communal tensions and conflict.

The human rights chief told reporters the resolution suggests international participation in the accountability mechanisms set up to deal with international crimes and gross human rights violations committed by individuals on both sides.

Date: 9 February 2016

Source: UN News


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  1. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights meets with Commission members - Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka