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Critical moment in Geneva - but will Tamils see justice? - APPG-T chair

Writing in the Huffington Post, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils chairman James Berry called on the British government to lead the world in seeking proper accountability for Sri Lanka’s atrocities. Highlighting ongoing torture, militarisation and economic disempowerment of the Tamil areas in Sri Lanka, he called for the British government to work to end the disenfranchisement of the Tamil North-East of Sri Lanka.

See also:

Colombo has a stronghold on North-East of Sri Lanka: Interview with APPG-T Chair James Berry (04 Sep 2015)

See extracts from his piece here.

Critical moment in Geneva - but will Tamils See justice?

Sri Lanka's President Sirisena has already set his face against any international involvement insisting on a domestic tribunal. By contrast, many Tamil people want to see an international, independent justice mechanism of the kinds established in post-conflict Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

However, the international community increasingly trusts the new Sri Lankan Government. Their concerns have been assuaged by the warm words from President Sirisena since his surprise election in January. While Sirisena appears to genuinely seek reconciliation, this has not trickled down through the system. In truth, the last eight months has seen little progress on key issues affecting Tamil people. The north and east are still very heavily militarised, resettlement of civilians is slow and there are still significant barriers to direct inward economic investment. More worryingly, Freedom From Torture's August report detailed evidence that, since the 2009 ceasefire and even into 2015, the Sri Lankan military, police and intelligence services have practiced torture - including rape and extensive burning.

Many would fear returning to Sri Lanka to participate in a tribunal where witness protection is provided by a government they believe includes war criminals. When human rights abuses are alleged to have continued even into 2015, what confidence can witnesses have in coming forward in this perceived climate of fear, especially when it is believed that previous witnesses who have come forward have suffered as a result?

Sadly, since only 23 of 47 members of the UNHRC voted positively for an independent investigation in 2014, there is only a limited prospect that a resolution imposing a fully independent judicial mechanism can be delivered. This is troubling but there is little any one country can do to force an independent justice mechanism.

If a judicial mechanism cannot be delivered, the UN Security Council meeting must be used as an opportunity to make the judicial process as accountable as possible. It must be used to set concrete and measurable targets for improving the lives of Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

You will hear two words used repeatedly in the coverage of the UNHRC's consideration of Sri Lanka in the coming fortnight: "accountability" and "reconciliation". The Tamil people want reconciliation. But there can be no true reconciliation without accountability for the atrocities committed the during and after the civil war. As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils, I am calling on the British government once again to lead the world in seeking proper accountability for human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. If we fail to do this effectively, there is little prospect of genuine reconciliation in Sri Lanka any time soon.