LONDON: Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon, the UK’s Minister for the UN and Human Rights, delivered the following statement during the Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka.
“The United Kingdom welcomes the High Commissioner’s detailed and most comprehensive report on Sri Lanka. We share the concerns regarding the reversal of progress on issues of accountability, and also the current human rights situation, and the risk and recurrence of past violations.
“We are also concerned at the increase in surveillance and indeed harassment of civil society actors, the militarisation of these civilian governmental functions, and the impact of the government’s forced cremation policy on different communities in Sri “Lanka, particularly the Muslim community, who continue to face persecution.
We also regret the Government of Sri Lanka’s decision to withdraw support for resolution 30/1, and note that previous domestic initiatives have all failed regrettably to deliver meaningful accountability. The appointment of senior military officials allegedly implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity also calls into question Sri Lanka’s commitment to accountability and justice.
“Therefore the Human Rights Council must continue to consider the situation in Sri Lanka and press for progress on justice, reconciliation and accountability, and improved respect for human rights. Enhanced monitoring by the Office of the High Commissioner is critical to support this. Together with our Core Group partners, we will present a new resolution to continue the Council’s engagement on these important issues, and have indicated our desire to work with the Government of Sri Lanka in support of accountability and lasting reconciliation for all communities.
Sanctioning Sultan Zabin
Meanwhile; Lord Tariq Ahmad has issued the following statement on UN Security Council Resolution 2564 (2021) sanctioning Sultan Zabin.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict and Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth, said:
Today’s UN Security Council Resolution 2564 (2021) sanctioning Sultan Zabin clearly demonstrates that the international community will not tolerate the atrocious use of torture and sexual violence in conflict zones. It is just and right that Zabin is sanctioned for leading the Criminal Investigation Department’s (CID) heinous campaign of systematic arrest, detention, torture, sexual violence and rape against politically active women in Yemen.
Using sexual violence as a weapon is a terrible crime, and the UK will continue to call out perpetrators and hold them to account.
In a recent statement, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said members of the Muslim community are facing arbitrary arrest and other abuses and called on the government to protect the community from violence.
Following a series of interviews with members of the community, HRW said in a report that ever since the Easter bombings on April 21 this year, “Sri Lankan Muslims have faced an upsurge in violations of their basic rights and assaults and other abuses from Buddhist nationalists.”
“Sri Lankan officials and politicians should stop endorsing, ignoring, or exploiting hate speech and mob violence directed at Muslims by members of the Buddhist clergy and other powerful figures,” HRW’s statement said.
At least 250 people were killed and more than 500 others injured in a series of bombings in April which targeted churches and hotels in and around the capital Colombo when Christians were observing Easter mass.
“The Sri Lankan government has a duty to protect its citizens and prosecute those responsible for the terrible Easter Sunday bombings, but it shouldn’t be punishing the Muslim community for this crime,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asian director at HRW.
“It’s crucial for the authorities to act swiftly to stop mob violence, threats, and discrimination against Muslims,” she added.
HRW noted that since the bombings, the authorities have arbitrarily arrested and detained hundreds of people under counterterrorism and emergency laws.
Sri Lankan lawyers “said their clients had often been arrested without any credible evidence of terrorist involvement, for reasons including having the Quran or other Arabic literature in their possession during searches”, the HRW statement added.
The rights group said the Sinhalese government-appointed Human Rights Commission had found in May that the government had failed to protect Muslims during communal rioting.
“Police have repeatedly failed to act properly or prosecute perpetrators. For instance, the manager of a Muslim-owned business who was attacked said the police did not make any arrests ‘despite plenty of CCTV footage to identify the perpetrators’,” the statement said.
The rights watchdog observed the complicity of the Sinhalese government and officials in the excesses against the Muslim community.
“Officials have made little effort to discourage public campaigns by religious figures that put the Muslim community at greater risk. On May 15, Gnanarathana Thero, one of Sri Lanka’s most senior Buddhist monks, called for the stoning to death of Muslims and propagated an unfounded allegation that Muslim-owned restaurants put ‘sterilization medicine’ in their food to suppress the majority Sinhalese Buddhist birthrate,” the statement added.
“Government leaders, instead of fulfilling their duty to protect Muslim citizens, have at times appeared to associate themselves with Buddhist nationalist elements…On May 23, President Maithripala Sirisena pardoned Gnanasara Thero, the leader of the nationalist Bodu Bala Sena (organization), who has long been associated with instigating deadly anti-Muslim violence, freeing him after he had served less than a year of a six-year prison term for contempt of court,” it added.
HRW further said that the Sinhalese government has invoked the criminal law to arrest peaceful critics of Sri Lankan Buddhism in violation of their rights to free expression.
“The situation has caused mounting international alarm for the safety of Muslims and other minorities,” it stressed.
“The ethnic violence and human rights violations that many Sri Lankans have suffered are now being directed against Muslims,” Ganguly said.
“The Sri Lankan government needs to take a stand against discrimination and intolerance, use the law to punish those responsible for abuses and protect, rather than target, vulnerable people.”