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Statement by Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, at the Peacebuilding Commission meeting on Sri Lanka, New York, 20 November 2017

Excellencies,

Thanks for this opportunity to brief you, as it shows once more the importance of a cross-pillar approach to addressing peacebuilding challenges.

Transitional justice is an essential element of the UN system’s work in peace building and sustaining peace in Sri Lanka, and is directly aligned with the mandate of this Commission. The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) is fully engage in providing advice and assistance on transitional justice strategies.

As we all know, the conflict in Sri Lanka ended without a peace agreement. In the absence of such a document that would guide the Government and Sri Lankan society in working towards a sustainable peace, Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 established the framework by which the Government of Sri Lanka, victims and civil society can address the root causes of the past conflict and put in place the foundation for a peaceful, sustainable future that protects human rights.

It is highly significant in our view that the Government of Sri Lanka co-sponsored the resolution, agreeing to the vision for the country that it presented and to implement its provisions. By doing so, the Government made a rare commendable promise to its people to do what is necessary to build a Sri Lanka based on justice, accountability, reconciliation, non-discrimination and equality.

However, implementation of commitments is taking longer than initially envisaged. High Commissioner Zeid in his report to the Human Rights Council in March 2017 noted that “the full promise of governance reform, transitional justice and economic revival has yet to be delivered, and risks stalling or dissipating.”

There have been, however, some recent positive moves such as the gazette notification for the operationalization of the Office of Missing Persons. The selection process for its board of commissioners is now ongoing. High calibre, independent commissioners are crucial for its success, as is providing answers to the thousands of affected families who still do not know the fate of their loved ones. The long-awaited review of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international human rights standards, and the incorporation into national law of the Convention on Enforced Disappearances remain outstanding. Further, the demilitarization of the North and East and the resolution of remaining land disputes remain important areas of work.

The democratic space has opened up and the human rights situation has showed signs of improvement since 2015. But important challenges remain with respect to impunity and especially torture. We also continue to hear about allegations of surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders and civil society, particularly in the North.

We will continue to advocate for and support the Government in establishing the three mechanisms still outstanding (the truth and reconciliation commission, the accountability mechanism, and the reparations office) and the prompt operationalisation of the Office of Missing Persons.

From April 2016 onwards, thanks to the generous support of the Peacebuilding Fund, OHCHR is supporting the government of Sri Lanka in designing transitional justice mechanisms, including the National Consultations on the Reconciliation Mechanisms. The report that came out of those consultations contains over 7,300 submissions, and it is the most thorough representation up to now of the voices of those affected by the conflict. It is essential to the peacebuilding process in Sri Lanka that the recommendations of this report be implemented.

Together with UNDP, OHCHR will continue to focus on the implementation of the Transitional Justice Pillar. Various mechanisms, such as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner’s reports to the Human Rights Council, will continue to support the government in this endeavour, including with providing advices.

We remain convinced that embedding human rights into our peacebuilding efforts in Sri Lanka is key to ensuring the sustainability of all our efforts.

Thank you.