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British MPs urge Britain’s Foreign Secretary to ensure accountability in Sri Lanka

(Photo of APPGT Chair Elliot Colburn)

Following the publication of a draft UN resolution on Sri Lanka, a number of British MPs led by the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPGT) have called on British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, to go beyond the current resolution and consider referring Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court, as well as prepare files for independent criminal proceedings.

In his statement Elliot Colburn, chair of the (APPGT) notes the group's concern over the draft resolution noting that it “does not sufficiently support the important recommendations by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that are critical for ensuring progress towards accountability”.

He further referenced the 2015 OISL report which documented mass atrocities and human rights abuses of "unspeakable brutality and on an extraordinary scale". The report further notes the failure of the UN to prevent these mass atrocities which allowed for the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians during the final months of the armed conflict. Colburn notes that despite Sri Lanka’s repeated pledges to “ensure accountability, and repeated extensions by UNHRC members of their deadlines […] successive Sri Lankan governments have delayed and obfuscated at every turn”.

“Six years after the OISL report, and 11 years after the end of the war in Sri Lanka, it is now time for the UK and the UNHRC member states to put the victims, the so many people who lost their lives, lost loved ones, and were put through unimaginable suffering, at the forefront of international efforts to ensure justice is delivered to them, without any further delay”, he adds.

The statement further makes three recommendations.

1. Evidence gathering for the purpose of criminal prosecutions

Colburn notes the need for an independent mechanism to “collect, consolidate, preserve, and analyse evidence” of violations of international law between 21 February 2002 and 15 November 2011, and to prepare, “facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings”. These proceedings, he highlights, maybe in “national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes”.

2. International Mechanism

Colburn calls on the Foreign Secretary to provide a mandate for the Office of the High Commissioner to consider and report on the feasibility of international mechanisms for accountability in recognition of the fact that “Sri Lankan authorities have failed to prosecute alleged perpetrators of serious abuses, which may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide”.

He notes that the ICC should be considered as it was “established precisely so as to ensure that perpetrators of such heinous crimes do not enjoy impunity because the State in question is unwilling or unable to prosecute them”.

He urges the UK to lead on this as the next Chief Prosecutor at the ICC is a leading British barrister, Karim Khan.

3. Special Rapporteur

The final request is for the UN HRC to appoint an expert Special Rapporteur to investigate and report on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, noting that “it is not only past violations and the lack of accountability for those that are concerning for us but ongoing ones also”.

He further highlighted the UN High Commissioner’s latest damning report on Sri Lanka’s deteriorating human rights situation and “appalling track record”.

He concludes by stating:

“After over a decade of promised yet ultimately denied justice for victims, we also believe these are the minimal steps that the UK should pursue, if our commitment to human rights, international rule of law, and justice is not to appear hollow, to both the victims and the perpetrators”.

Read the full letter to Raab here.

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