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Government questions timing, authority of UN report on enforced disappearances

Amnesty International’s global chief and Secretary General Agnes Callamard (L) attends a commemoration ceremony at Mullivaikkal village in northern Sri Lanka on May 18. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

By: Vibhuti Pathak

The Sri Lankan government expressed concerns over the timing and authority of a recent report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), released on Friday (17), which called for accountability from it over enforced disappearances during the armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The OHCHR report urged the Sri Lankan government to take significant steps to determine and disclose the fates and whereabouts of tens of thousands of individuals who have disappeared over the decades and to hold those responsible accountable.

Foreign ministry officials indicated plans to formally address the OHCHR’s unilateral decision to issue this report, especially its timing. The Sri Lankan government was particularly irritated as the report was released just a day before the Tamil diaspora and relatives of those who died during the final phase of the war with the LTTE in May 2009 planned to commemorate their dead.

Despite concerns of a government crackdown due to the LTTE’s designation as a terrorist organisation, events marking the fifteenth anniversary were held on Saturday in former conflict zones and even in Colombo. Tamil groups maintain that a significant number of civilians died during the final battle.

The LTTE had waged a nearly 30-year military campaign for a separate Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces. The conflict concluded on May 18, 2009, when the Sri Lankan Army announced victory with the death of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabakaran.

On Saturday (18), Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, Agnes Callamard, visited the site of the final battle in the northeastern district, following a meeting with President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday. Despite nearly 15 years since the end of the conflict and several decades since the earliest disappearances, Sri Lankan authorities have been criticised for failing to ensure accountability for these violations.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk emphasized the need for accountability and institutional reform to facilitate reconciliation. The OHCHR report also called for renewed domestic action in Sri Lanka to ensure accountability through criminal justice, as well as international engagement for investigations, prosecutions, and targeted sanctions.

Sri Lanka contends that the OHCHR was not authorized by its member states to issue such a report, challenging its mandate and timing.

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