This week, the UN Human Rights Committee will review Sri Lanka’s fifth periodic report on how it is implementing the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This post offers a preview of the issues likely to be raised by the committee at its session in Geneva.

A principal focus of the review is likely to be the extent to which Sri Lanka is taking effective measures to address impunity for human rights violations committed by both state and non-state actors. The issue of accountability, particularly in the context of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the country’s decades-long civil war, has come under continuing international scrutiny. Earlier this year, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution directing the High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate the human rights violations and abuses by both sides in the civil war. [Questions of accountability in Sri Lanka have also been considered here at Just Security in previous posts by Ryan Goodman (here, here, and here) and Beth Van Schaack (here and here).]

The committee will be keen to hear whether Sri Lanka plans to accept international assistance to address outstanding cases of human rights violations and whether it intends to cooperate with international authorities on investigations into the conflict. However, it is difficult to see how progress can be made on this issue. The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly made clear that it will refuse to cooperate with the High Commissioner’s investigation mandated by the Human Rights Council. During his address to the UN General Assembly last month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa accused international bodies of “an obvious lack of balance and proportion in the manner in which [Sri Lanka] is being targeted.” In a reference to the investigation, Rajapaksa said, “Post-conflict Sri Lanka has also become an unfortunate victim of ill-conceived agendas of some in the Human Rights Council.”

The committee has also asked the government to provide an update on any progress made in implementing the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, which the government has repeatedly dismissed as a “discredited document containing unverified and unsubstantiated information from questionable sources.” The government’s sustained opposition to international moves toward increased accountability offers little hope for a productive discussion on the issue this week.

Other important issues likely to be discussed by the committee include:

  • The compatibility of Sri Lanka’s counter-terrorism legislation with the Covenant;
  • Alleged right to life violations, including extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances;
  • Abuses in the criminal justice system, including torture;
  • The rehabilitation and reintegration of former combatants, including child soldiers; and
  • The rights of women and minority communities.

Live webcasts of the public sessions this week can be viewed here. Watch this space for further coverage of the committee’s 112th session.