The UN report published today has identified patterns of grave violations in Sri Lanka between 2002 and 2011, strongly indicating that war crimes and crimes against humanity were most likely committed by both sides to the conflict.
The report recommends the establishment of a hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, as an essential step towards justice.
The UNHRC Commissioner further reiterated several factors.
He said the commitment of the new government to conduct a domestic investigation is laudable.
However Sri Lankan Judicial system, particularly in three areas, is not ready to investigate such alleged crimes.
The country’s judicial system has no trustworthy provisions to safeguard the victims and witnesses.
The second is lack of a domestic law framework to investigate international crimes.
The third challenge pointed out by the Commissioner is the corrupt and spoilt security personnel and the judiciary due to emergency situation, conflict and impunity.
The charges leveled against Sri Lanka by the UNHRC are listed under 8 categories.
Among them are: Unlawful killings, sexual and gender based violence, enforced disappearance, torture and other forms of cruel inhuman or degrading treatment, recruitment of children and their use in hostilities, attacks on civilians and civilian objects and denial of humanitarian assistance.
Update : Wednesday, 16 September 2015 - 19:09
UN report confirms patterns of grave violations; Zeid urges creation of hybrid special court in Sri Lanka
The UN report published today has identified patterns of grave violations in Sri Lanka between 2002 and 2011, strongly indicating that war crimes and crimes against humanity were most likely committed by both sides to the conflict. The report recommends the establishment of a hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, as an essential step towards justice.
“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. “Importantly, the report reveals violations that are among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”
“This report is being presented in a new political context in Sri Lanka, which offers grounds for hope,” Zeid said. “It is crucial that this historic opportunity for truly fundamental change is not allowed to slip.”
Among the most serious crimes documented in the report are the following:
The report documents years of denials and cover-ups, failure to carry out prompt investigations, stalled investigations and reprisals against the family members of victims and others who have pushed for justice.
It notes that the repeated failure of successive domestic inquiries to bring justice has led to scepticism, anger and mistrust on the part of victims, particularly since “many of the structures responsible for the violations and crimes remain in place.” The report demonstrates the systemic weakness in addressing these crimes, especially when the military or security forces are involved. It also describes “reprisals against judicial and other professionals who try to prosecute human-rights related cases involving State officials.”
“The commitment by the new Government to pursue accountability through a domestic process is commendable…but the unfortunate reality is that Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system is not yet ready,” the report states. “First and foremost is the absence of any reliable system for victim and witness protection. Second is the inadequacy of Sri Lanka’s domestic legal framework to deal with international crimes of this magnitude. The third challenge is the degree to which Sri Lanka’s security sector and justice system have been distorted and corrupted by decades of emergency, conflict and impunity.”
The High Commissioner welcomed the positive steps taken by the new Government of President Mathiripala Sirisena since January this year, but said that “Sri Lanka must now move forward to dismantle the repressive structures and institutional cultures that remain deeply entrenched after decades of erosion of human rights.”
“This will not happen overnight, and no one should underestimate the enormity of the task,” he 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 report recommends a range of measures to develop a comprehensive transitional justice policy to address the human rights violations of the past 30 years and prevent their recurrence.
The High Commissioner urged all communities and sections of society, including the diaspora, to view the report as “an opportunity to change discourse from one of absolute denial to one of acknowledgment and constructive engagement to bring about change.”
“After so many years of unbridled human rights violations and institutionalized impunity, the wounds of victims on both sides have festered and deepened,” Zeid said. “Unless fundamentally addressed, their continued suffering will further polarize and become an obstacle to reconciliation, and – worse – may sow the seeds for further conflict.”
“The levels of mistrust in State authorities and institutions by broad segments of Sri Lankan society should not be underestimated,” the High Commissioner said. “It is for this reason that the establishment of a hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, is so essential. A purely domestic court procedure will have no chance of overcoming widespread and justifiable suspicions fuelled by decades of violations, malpractice and broken promises.”
“The domestic criminal justice system also needs to be strengthened and reformed, so it can win the confidence of the public, but that is a process which will take several years to achieve and needs to be undertaken in parallel to the establishment of a special hybrid court, not in place of it. Indeed such a court may help stimulate the reforms needed to set Sri Lanka on a new path to justice, building public confidence along the way.”
The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council last year to conduct a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period 2002-11. The investigation report is based on eye-witness testimony, interviews with victims and witnesses, video and photographic material including satellite imagery (much of which is not in the public domain) that was analyzed by forensic and military experts, and an extensive review of documentation, including about 3,000 written statements and submissions, as well as previously unpublished reports. The OHCHR investigation team was not granted access to Sri Lanka and faced other constraints, including the previous Government’s use of threats, intimidation and surveillance to prevent people, particularly in the north of the country, from cooperating with the investigation.
Update : Wednesday, 16 September 2015 - 15:15
Live: UN Report Released
The UN report on Sri Lanka exploring the violations occurred in Sri Lanka between 2002 and 2011, indicate that war crimes and crimes against humanity were most likely committed by both sides to the conflict, UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said a short while ago as the report on Sri Lanka was made public.
The OISL was directed at the UNHRC in March 2014 through US Sponsored resolution 25/1, which requested the High Commissioner to ‘undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders.’
The recommendations of the OISL report included a call for a hybrid court to address war crimes committed by both sides of the conflict.