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United States Representatives Deborah Ross (NC-D) and Bill Johnson (OH-R) introduced a bipartisan Resolution on May 18, 2021 which would seek justice, accountability, reform in Sri Lanka and to honor the lives lost in the 26 year Civil War which ended in 2009. Congresswoman Ross said that the Sri Lankan government had committed abuses against minorities in the country.
At the end of the war alone, 40,000 Tamil civilians were murdered and accountability has yet to come. This is part of what the Resolution seeks to achieve. Much of the Resolution acknowledges the lives lost in the war, commends the United Nations on focusing their own Resolution on evidence collection, and honors the memory of those who have died. Action based aspects of it include urging the international community to advocate and protect political rights and representation of those who are oppressed, have the U.S. explore investigations and prosecutions at the recommendation of the UN’s High Commissioner, and to have the U.S. work with the UN in creating accountability for war crimes committed in the past. The complete list can be found here.
Representative Ross was among nine Congress members who sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in March about the human rights crisis in Sri Lanka. This was a precursor to the Resolution introduction, as it also recognized damage from the 26 year Civil War and the necessity of accountability and institutional reform so that all people may have quality of life. They urged Secretary Blinken to make each engagement with Sri Lanka centered with democracy in mind. The letter stated that Congress was aware that those implicated in war crimes now held government positions, previous democtratic reforms were abandoned, war crime investigations were blocked, increasing surveillance and harassment of activists, and alleged cases of torture and kidnapping.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had withdrawn from 2015’s United Nations Human Rights Council’s Resolution in February 2020. The previous government had co-sponsored it and committed to upholding human rights in the country. This Resolution had been renewed twice more in 2017 and 2019 until Rajapaksa’s inauguration.
In March 2021, the UNHRC adopted a new resolution for reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in the country. The Office of the High Commissioner will be strengthened to collect, consolidate, analyze, and preserve proof and data and strategize future accountability opportunities for any violations of international law.
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