The OHCHR investigation into Sri Lanka (OISL) indicates a pattern of violations that suggest that crimes against humanity and war crimes were likely committed, said the United Nations Human Rights Chief upon releasing the report on Wednesday.
Speaking at a press conference at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Zeid Hussein said,
“The report draws us closer to the conclusion... that crime against humanity and war crimes.... have apparently been committed by state actors,... the LTTE and paramilitary groups.”
Highlighting a “deep mistrust” between victims and the state, and “repeated failures by the state in providing justice,” the Human Rights Chief said that a significant recommendation from the report was the set up of a hybrid court to ensure there is no impunity for crimes of “such grave nature.”
Mr Hussein added, “a purely domestic procedure will not succeed in overcoming decades of broken promises… it is an inescapable reality that Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system is not ready to handle these types of crimes.”
He further called on Sri Lanka to show it's commitment to non-recurrence by ratifying the Rome Statute.
The report found that "there are reasonable grounds to believe that gross violations of international human rights law, serious violations of international humanitarian law and international crimes were committed by all parties during the period under investigation. Indeed, if established before a court of law, many of these allegations would amount, depending on the circumstances, to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity."
On denial of humanitarian assistance to Tamil civilians, the report added,
"OISL has reasonable grounds to believe that the Government knew or had reasons to know the real humanitarian needs of the civilian populations in the concerned areas, including from its own Government agents who were organizing assistance in the conflict zone, and yet it imposed severe restrictions on the passage of relief and the freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel"
On the nature of unlawful killings across the period of the investigation, the report added,
"SL security forces and paramilitary groups associated with them were implicated in unlawful killings carried out in a widespread manner against civilians and other protected persons during the period covered by the OISL’s report” specifically targeting Tamil politics, humanitarian workers and journalists but also ordinary civilians."
On future processes to deal with the findings of the report, the found that,
"Sri Lanka has not acceded to several key instruments, notably the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, in particular Additional Protocol II, the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It does not have laws criminalising enforced disappearances, war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. Its legal framework does not enable individuals to be charged with different forms of liability, notably command or superior responsibility."
Commenting on Sri Lanka's lack of cooperation with the UN, the rights chief added that, "there was no U turn in the support we had hoped would be extended to the investigation. Although some of the decisions that the current president and the government have taken clearly point in a positive direction, we all know much more still needs to be done. We believe we should have a role in assisting Sri Lanka."
Conclusions of the OISL report:
"The OHCHR investigation contained in this report was born out of the past failure of the Government of Sri Lanka to address accountability for the most serious human rights violations and crimes. Ending the impunity enjoyed by the security forces and associated paramilitary groups, as well as holding to account surviving members of the LTTE, will require political will and concerted efforts to ensure the non-recurrence of these violations and crimes.
The new Government’s commitments in this respect are welcome, but it needs to convince a very skeptical audience – Sri Lankan and international – that it is determined to show results. Prosecuting a few emblematic cases will not be sufficient; Sri Lanka needs to address the patterns of serious human rights violations and other international crimes that have caused such suffering for all communities over decades if it is to prevent them haunting its future.
The High Commissioner remains convinced that for accountability to be achieved in Sri Lanka, it will require more than a domestic mechanism. Sri Lanka should draw on the lessons learnt and good practices of other countries that have succeeded with hybrid special courts, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators. Such a mechanism will be essential to give confidence to all Sri Lankans, in particular the victims, in the independence and impartiality of the process, particularly given the politicization and highly polarized environment in Sri Lanka. OHCHR stands ready to continue providing its advice and technical assistance in the design of such a mechanism.
The High Commissioner also believes the Human Rights Council has – and should continue to play – a critically important role in encouraging progress on accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. As the process now moves into a new stage, he urges Council members to sustain their monitoring of developments in Sri Lanka with a view to further actions that may be required at the international level should there not be concrete results."
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