Updated 01 Oct 2015 09:21 GMT
There were strong calls from member states at the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday for the new Sri Lankan government to deliver concrete steps on its said commitments towards justice and accountability, as the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights' Investigation into Sri Lanka (OISL) was discussed at the Council.
Find our live coverage of the discussion on our Twitter feed here.
Introducing the debate High Commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, reiterated the report's recommendation that a hybrid special court be established in order to give confidence to the victims and their families in the process of justice and accountability.
Sri Lanka responded to the OISL report, stating that the recommendations of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights' Investigation into Sri Lanka (OISL) will “receive due attention”.
See: OISL recommendations will ‘receive due attention’ says Sri Lanka (30 Sep 2015)
Member states and non-governmental organisations added to the debate with responses on the findings of the OISL report in statements to the Council.
Calls for strong international involvement
Several oral statements highlighted the necessity for meaningful international involvement in Sri Lanka to see true justice and reconciliation on the island.
Highlighting that victims confidence in the process would need a strong international component, Canada's envoy said,
"We underline the importance of meaningful international involvement in such a mechanism to enhance its credibility particularly for victims."
Stressing the need for on-going international involvement the Estonia's UN envoy said,
"We agree with the High Commissioner's views that there is a need to tackle deep-seated and institutionalized impunity which risks violations being repeated. In this regard in our view, the suggested international component of the investigation into human rights violations together with systematic reporting would assist in guaranteeing an effective and credible accountability mechanism."
Drawing upon previous domestic process failures in Sri Lanka, Denmark echoed calls for genuine accountability,
"We note with serious concern that national mechanisms in Sri Lanka have consistently failed to independently or credibly investigate the alleged human rights violations. We therefore fully support the High Commissioner’s call for a solid and credible justice process with the support and participation of the international community to ensure accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed"
Montenegro urged close cooperation with international institutions to ensure an effective transitional justice mechanism is developed:
"encourage the government to fulfill its commitments and cooperate closely with the international human rights institutions with a view to ensure that effective transitional justice mechanisms have been put in place."
Noting historic successes of international involvement in justice process Norway's envoy said,
"The involvement of international assistance in other countries processes for seeking truth and justice has proved important to those processes, and therefore support provisions along these lines in the draft resolution."
Reiterating the OISL's conclusions, Albania said an internal mechanism was not in a position to fully address accountability:
"We agree with the OHCHR assessment that capacity of the Sri Lanka criminal justice system to deliver on this regard, considering the actual post-conflict political situation is challenging. We believe the internal accountability mechanism is not fully in position to address the long standing patterns of serious violations of human rights and put an end to impunity."
Encouraging Sri Lanka to implement the resolution, France reiterated that it is crucial the justice mechanism is linked to the international community.
"The swift establishment of a credible and independent transitional justice mechanism, to which the international community will be linked, is therefore a crucial element to this process."
Stating that Sri Lanka's progress towards human rights, peaceful coexistence of ethnic and religious groups and the rule of law depends on the effective deliver of accountability and reconciliation, the Czech Republic said,
"We believe that the international community has an important role to place in this regard and support the proposal to complement national efforts with an international component."
Australia lent its support to Sri Lanka, highlighting its status as a fellow Commonwealth nation:
" As a fellow Commonwealth member and Indian Ocean neighbour, we stand ready to provide assistance to Sri Lanka as it implements its proposals to deal with the past and move forward as a nation."
Stressing the need to improve and implement effective witness protection, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia called on Sri Lanka to involve international experts in the process of reform:
"the improvement and implementation of the witness protection act at the national level will be of utmost importance in the administration of justice. We hope that the Government of Sri Lanka will be fully considering international experts involvement in this process."
Stressing the need for justice, Switzerland reiterated the need for international participation in the transitional justice process:
"Switzerland underlines the importance that Sri Lanka develop a credible transitional justice process with international participation and reform its institutions and its laws."
Drawing on its own history, Ireland highlighted the value of external involvement and assistance in resolving one's internal conflict, adding that they would be particularly interested to hear of the international component of any accountability mechanism during the High Commissioner's update at the 32nd and 34th UNHRC sessions.
"We will closely follow the implementation of these commitments, including in the context of the Council's future work. For we fully understand, including from our own history, that as Foreign Minister said in this Chamber, reconciliation is a process. However this does not mean that concrete progress can be deferred indefinitely; or that outside involvement and assistance does not have an important role."
"While we would in some respects have welcomed a more robust text, we consider the draft resolution HRC30/L.29 tabled by the core group consisting of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, UK And US to be a good basis for progress in Sri Lanka."
"We also look forward to the future oral and written reports of the High Commissioner to this Council at the 32nd and 34th sessions respectively. In those reports and discussions, we will be particularly interested in progress on domestic law reform and the concrete arrangements put in place to give effect to provisions of draft operative paragraph 6 regarding an accountability mechanism including an international component."
Calls for credible justice and prosecutions
Member states and NGOs stressed the importance of seeing prosecution and credible justice to see a lasting peace on the island.
Switzerland called on Sri Lanka to commit to ensure the crimes detailed in the OISL report do not go unpunished:
"In accordance with the recommendations made, Switzerland calls on Sri Lanka to amend its Criminal Code in order to fully integrate war crimes offences, crimes against humanity, genocide and forced disappearance with retroactive effect and while guaranteeing their imprescriptibility. It urges Sri Lanka to commit so that crimes do not go unpunished."
Calling for a special court to be "designated to investigate allegations of human rights violations and war crimes" to be established, Sierra Leone stressed,
it should "work to ensure that thorough investigations are carried out and the perpetrators of war crimes and gross human rights violations are brought to justice."
Stressing the need for accountability for serious international crimes, Canada's envoy said,
"It is important to follow through on commitments to establish a credible mechanism to investigate allegations and ensure accountability for serious international crimes perpetrated by all parties during the conflict."
Belgium added calls for justice to be delivered in a time bound manner, stating,
"Acting in a timely manner is important if we wish to have a judicial process which adequately responds to the gravity of the harm caused to victims on both sides of the conflict."
Montenegro reiterated the need for the process of justice and accountability to be credible, stating,
"Only a credible approach to investigation of serious crimes committed over the past by all sides of the conflict and ensuring justice for victims and their families, can help reaching durable peace in Sri Lanka, and improve its rule of law and human rights situation at large."
Noting the gravity of the crimes detailed in the OISL report, France said, "justice is, indeed, an essential condition for lasting peace."
"The abuses committed during this period are constitutive of "crimes against humanity" according to the report. It is now essential that all light be shed on the responsibility of these crimes, and that justice is ensured, both for victims' families, who bravely contributed to this report, and to facilitate the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka and definitively turn the page on the civil war."
Welcoming the OISL report's conclusions and recommendations, the UK said "without facts, there can be no justice, no end to impunity and no reconciliation.
"The report sets out a range of extremely grave human rights violations and abuses, committed by all sides in the conflict. While this account will be difficult for many in Sri Lanka, it was essential for the Council to have seen it and for the people of Sri Lanka. Without facts, there can be no justice, no end to impunity and no reconciliation. We therefore welcome the report's conclusions and recommendations. They provide an important basis for Sri Lanka and all those affected by the conflict and its aftermath to look to the future."
Concerns of on-going violations in Sri Lanka
Concerns of ongoing violations in Sri Lanka were also highlighted by several member states during the general debate.
Expressing concern at the ongoing rights situation in Sri Lanka, the Denmark's envoy said,
"Denmark shares the concerns expressed by the High Commissioner about the continued human rights issues in Sri Lanka, including in relation to surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders, and the need for fundamental reforms of, among others, the justice and security sectors."
Echoing concerns about the ongoing violations, Albania said it would place its confidence government's commitment to bring such violations to an end:
"While we express concern for the reports of ongoing violations of Human Rights, we put our confidence in the Sri Lanka government to deliver on its commitments to address and end these violations."
Calls for commitment to non-recurrence and ratification of Rome Statute
Estonia and Switzerland lead calls for Sri Lanka to ratify the Rome Statute as an immediate tangible measure to show commitment to non-recurrence on the island during the course of the debate.
Urging Sri Lanka to ensure the crimes detailed in the OISL report do no go unpunished, Switzerland encouraged Sri Lanka to ratify the Rome Statute of the ICC:
"Switzerland encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and to accept the jurisdiction of the Court from 1 July 2002 according to Article 12 paragraph 3 of this instrument."
See: Estonia and Switzerland invite Sri Lanka to ratify Rome Statute of ICC (30 Sep 2015)
Calls for devolution and ethnic political settlement
Calling for the root cause of the ethnic conflict and violations in Sri Lanka to be addressed, statements called for a devolution of power to the Tamil community as a measure towards non-recurrence of crimes.
Noting Sri Lanka’s commitment to constitutional change, New Zealand added,
“We expect measures will help reconciliation and devolution, particularly for Tamil communities in the North and East of the country.”
Calling on the Sri Lankan government to implement the “immediate adoption of essential confidence building measures” for the victims of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, the European Union said the tabled resolution on Sri Lanka “marks a crucial step towards a credible transitional justice process... with the active support and participation of the international community”.
See UK Statement: UK reaffirms commitment to justice and non-recurrence in Sri Lanka (30 Sep 2015)