UN must ensure full implementation of pledges made at HRC30 on Sri Lanka accountability process

By Together Against Genocide (TAG), Monday, January 25 2016
Together Against Genocide (TAG) is horrified at Sri Lanka’s U-turn on the pledges it made, just 4 months ago, to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), to implement the recommendations of the OISL (Investigation on Sri lanka of the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights).  
 
Contrary to pledges to the UN Human Rights Council to include “commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, authorised prosecutors and investigators”, Sri Lanka’s President now says ‘he will never agree to international involvement’ in the justice process for mass atrocities committed by his armed forces.
 
The OISL, in a report released at the HRC’s 30th session, detailed mass atrocities and crimes against humanity committed on predominantly Tamil civilians by Sri Lanka’s military as well as by the LTTE.
 
Of circa 430,000 Tamil civilians living in the de-facto state created by the LTTE, some 147 000 are missing and unaccounted for six  years after the end of the war. Of those 147K, one in four were children under twelve. While the 2011 report of the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts, estimates deaths as ranging from 40K to 120K, Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister said this year that all of the missing should be considered dead.
 
In an echo of the genocide in Srebrenica some 14 years prior, almost all of these deaths took place within “No Fire Zones” (NFZs) set up by the Sri Lankan government or in government custody upon exiting the NFZ.
 
 “Our investigation has laid bare the horrific level of violations and abuses that occurred in Sri Lanka, including indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, harrowing accounts of torture and sexual violence, recruitment of children and other grave crimes,” High Commissioner Zeid said to the Human Rights Council “Importantly, the report reveals violations that are among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.” - See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?LangID=E&NewsID=16432#sthash.m4Ho5Jib.dpuf
 
The OISL report recommended that Sri Lanka ratify the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court and ‘Adopt specific legislation establishing an ad hoc hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, mandated to try war crimes and crimes against humanity, including sexual crimes and crimes committed against children ...’
 
On releasing the report, High Commissioner Zeid said “We have seen many moments in Sri Lanka’s history when governments pledged to turn the page and end practices like enforced disappearances, but the failure to address impunity and root out the systemic problems that allowed such abuses to occur meant that the ‘white vans’ could be, and were, reactivated when needed It is imperative that the Government seizes the unique opportunity it has to break the mold of impunity once and for all. This means there must be a root-and-branch transformation of the ways in which institutions and officials operate. “
 
The present Sri Lankan government came into power due to  pressure at the Human Rights Council on former President Rajapaksa who was accused of overseeing mass atrocities. The new government co-signed resolution 30/1 to ward off a referral to the International Criminal Court or other justice mechanism outside of Sri Lanka.
 
Prior to agreeing to cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council Sri Lanka faced boycotts at the Commonwealth Heads of Government and other international arena. After agreeing to cooperate, Sri Lanka has seen unprecedented international engagement including visits from British and American diplomats seeking to encourage Sri Lanka’s implementation of its pledges to the Human Rights Council.
 
Notably in November 2015, Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN visited Sri Lanka, followed within a month by the State Department’s Counsellor Shannon and Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal. In January 2016, Hugo Swire, British Foreign Office Minister for Asia, visited Sri Lanka for discussions that spanned the implementation of UN HRC resolution  30/1.
 
The Sri Lankan government has marketed these visits as signs of its ‘reinstatement’ in the international community. Simultaneously Sri Lanka has sought a fresh influx of aid, including the restoration of its privileged EU tax status under the GSP+ regime.
 
It is in this context that the country’s President told the BBC that he has no intention of allowing international involvement in the proposed justice mechanism. He said ‘we do not need to import any one to solve our country’s problems’. He rejected the possibility of international judges.
 
Other recommendations of the OISL remain unfulfilled. Contrary to recommended demilitarisation, Sri Lanka continued to increase its military budget and the vast majority of its ethnically Sinhala troops remain stationed in the Tamil North East.
 
“We are horrified by Sri Lanka’s duplicity towards survivors of mass atrocities: they have been promised a credible justice mechanism involving international judges and legal assistance.” TAG Director Jan Jananayagam said.
 
“It is critical that the UN and members of the Human Rights Council take immediate steps to ensure full implementation of the pledges made at the 30th session of the Human Rights Council”