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Human Rights Council, 7th Session (Item 4)

14 March 2008

Item 4 – Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention 

Thank you Mr. President.

I speak on behalf of Minority Rights Group International. MRG welcomes reports by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN special procedures, who have addressed aspects of Sri Lanka’s worsening human rights situation.[1] MRG also welcomes statements made at this council by countries that have acknowledged the seriousness of this issue.

However, we are concerned that these statements and reports do not sufficiently acknowledge the disproportionately harsh manner in which minority communities in Sri Lanka, Tamils and Muslims, are being affected by the crisis.

Sri Lanka’s near 18 percent minority Tamil population and 8 percent Muslims are the worst affected in rising human rights violations. Following the end of the 2002 ceasefire, there has been an increase in civilian deaths. Responsibility lies with both the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers. Both sides are accused of carrying out human rights violations. As Tiger attacks have increased, the government has responded: using tough anti-terrorism legislation to arrest on mass and to detain mostly minority Tamil civilians.

The country’s Muslims are also affected by Sri Lanka’s longstanding ethnic conflict, but their plight is little known.

Muslims are also victims of killings, torture, abductions and extortions by armed actors in eastern Sri Lanka and MRG is concerned by the Sri Lankan government’s role with some of these armed groups[2], who have been responsible for major human rights violations. After winning recent elections in the East, these armed groups are poised to take control of local government administration. However, according to Sri Lankan civil society groups, the elections were not conducted in a free and fair manner. The Government sees these elections as a positive step towards providing greater autonomy for minorities in the east but the current security situation, which places armed groups in positions of power, is not a climate in which minorities can enjoy political autonomy. For Tamils and Muslims, who form the majority population in the East, this will pose a particular threat. MRG urges the government to ensure security in these areas, to disarm paramilitary groups and ensure that all communities are included in plans to develop this region.

While MRG acknowledges the Sri Lankan government’s difficult position in maintaining security in the country in the face of increased attacks by the Tigers we urge the government to accept the severity of the current human rights crisis, to acknowledge the inability of national mechanisms to deal with this crisis and to agree to international monitoring of human rights.

We call on members of the Human Rights Council to urge Sri Lanka to work with the OHCHR to enable this. We ask OIC states, who play a key role in this council, to recognize the plight of Muslims in Sri Lanka and we appeal to other members, particularly India, to take note of the rising human rights violations against minorities.

We also call on the Sri Lankan government to invite the UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Ms Gay McDougall to visit the country.

Thank you Mr. President.


[1] Minority Rights Group has issued a briefing paper entitled “One year on: counter-terrorism sparks human rights crisis for Sri Lanka’s minorities”, available at

[2] There are several armed actors, apart from the Tamil Tigers, who operate in Sri Lanka. They include paramilitary groups such as the Karuna and Pillayan factions and former militant groups such as the EPDP and PLOTE.