Statement on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution on Sri Lanka (A/HRC/30/L.29)
By Together Against Genocide [TAG], Thursday, October 01 2015
Together Against Genocide (TAG) notes with appreciation the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution on Sri Lanka that follows the HRC-mandated report of the investigation of the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights into Sri Lanka (OISL).
We are pleased the HRC resolution, co-signed by Sri Lanka, has adopted the recommendations of the OISL in so far as it has affirmed that any transitional justice mechanism in Sri Lanka must, in order to be credible, involve international investigators, prosecutors, lawyers and judges. The HRC also encourages and Sri Lanka has now consented to strengthen its Witness and Victim Protection by effective measures. We note with satisfaction the HRC encourages and the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) has now consented to investigate all alleged attacks by individuals and groups on journalists, human rights defenders, members of religious minority groups and other members of civil society, as well as places of worship, and to hold perpetrators of such attacks to account and to take steps to prevent such attacks in the future.
We note with appreciation the HRC encourages and Sri Lanka has now consented to introduce effective security sector reforms as part of its transitional justice process, ensuring that no scope exists for retention in or recruitment into the security forces of anyone credibly implicated in serious crimes involving human rights violations or abuses or violations of international humanitarian law.
We note with appreciation, that with respect to the Tamil North East which continues currently under military occupation, the HRC encourages and Sri Lanka has now consented to accelerate the return of land to its rightful civilian owners, and to undertake further efforts to tackle its military’s use of land and military appropriation from the rightful (almost entirely ethnic Tamil) civilian owners, in particular the ending of military involvement in civilian activities.
These are a few of the broad range of measures considered necessary by the UN HRC.
We are grateful to the core-group (the UK, US, Montenegro and Macedonia), the co-sponsors and the many missions notably Switzerland, the European Union, Canada, Ireland and Argentina among others, who spoke out throughout the session for strong measures for accountability and justice on the Island of Sri Lanka, including in particular for the mass atrocities against Tamils in the final phase of the ethnic conflict in 2009. It was encouraging to note consensus and determination within a broad swathe of HRC country representatives to ensure that a credible justice process be initiated for the crimes against humanity and other international crimes detailed in the OISL report. It has been emphasized throughout that ‘credible’ means credible internationally and domestically, and particularly in the eyes of the witnesses and survivors, including surviving family of victims, be they based in Sri Lanka or abroad, the vast majority of whom are of Tamil ethnicity.
Nevertheless we were dismayed at Sri Lanka’s (unsuccessful) interim efforts in informal open consultations during the HRC30 session to wholesale delete from the resolution almost all the key recommendations of the OISL report. This has been followed by misleading and aggressive domestic messaging by the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) that has already cast doubt on their good intent in carrying out promises made to other HRC members. We are reminded of Sri Lanka’s long-history of abrogated pacts in relation to resolution of the ethnic conflict there, not least the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact among others.
The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (MR Ranil Wickremasinghe) has said, after agreeing to the resolution that with respect to justice for mass atrocities against Tamils that the (ethnic Sinhala) ‘South will take care of Southerners’ implying that key perpetrators of Sinhala ethnicity will not held to account for the mass atrocities they have committed.
There is thus deep and legitimate doubt among the community of survivors and witnesses as to the good intent of the government and the credibility of its involvement in ensuring justice for mass atrocities.
We were particularly disappointed to note that the government of Sri Lanka has refused to de-militarize the North and East, and this has been deleted from the draft resolution proposed by the core group. We urge the UN to continue to monitor and pursue this potentially volatile issue and to take action now to prevent a repeat of mass atrocities by the Sri Lankan security services in the future.
We are disappointed to note the aggressive opposition by Pakistan in informal consultations and throughout the session with respect to demilitarization, security sector and judicial reform in Sri Lanka, supported by China and Russia, none of who have stellar records of respecting the rights of diverse non-majority communities on their territories.
We are grateful to Switzerland and Estonia for urging Sri Lanka to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) but note that GOSL continues to refuse to do so. The government of Sri Lanka has taken no action to implement measures for the prevention or punishment of genocide into its domestic mechanisms as suggested by Switzerland.
The HRC and especially those member states where many relatives of victims and witnesses now live, after having fled persecution in Sri Lanka, must ensure that the conditions are met for an honest Justice process.
HRC member states must take responsibility to ensure that the resolution translates to successful prosecutions for the full range of international crimes that have been committed against all people but especially against the Tamils who have been subject to the heinous crime of genocide.
The HRC must ensure that the wide range of recommendations that help prevent future ethnic persecution of Tamils as well as non-majority religious communities in Sri Lanka must are implemented according to a speedy and verifiable timetable.
We call upon HRC members to pursue the recommendations of the Human Rights Council (OISL) report via the full range of domestic and bilateral measures, including a review of military and commercial transactions with Sri Lanka, domestic asylum laws for persecuted groups from the island and prosecuting international crimes committed in Sri Lanka via universal jurisdiction mechanisms.
More fundamentally, against a background of past UN failures (as outlined by the Petrie report) the HRC must uncompromisingly pursue the implementation of ALL the recommendations of the OISL report with a view to preventing continuation/recurrence of the egregious violations outlined therein.
Each of the lives lost remains precious to us and we continue to hope to see them fully accounted for and their families granted Justice.