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OHCHR answers questions on Sri Lanka accountability project

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has provided clarifications and updates on the 'Sri Lanka accountability project' which was established by the UN Human Rights Council through Resolution 46/1 on 23 March 2021. 

The Resolution mandates the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to investigate and collect evidence for future accountability processes for violations of international rights and humanitarian law in Sri Lanka and to periodically update the Council on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including on progress in reconciliation and accountability. The project will be based at OHCHR headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland and will engage with Sri Lankan authorities to carry out its mandate. 

Collecting information

The update clarified that the OHCHR will use an even approach in executing its mandate. It will consider evidence of international law violations “regardless of which parties or individuals are alleged to have committed them”. The Office will collect information “from any available sources, for analysis further to standard methodology, with inculpatory and exculpatory information and evidence being treated on the same basis”.

In response to the methodology of its mission, the update noted evidence will be gathered from “all sources willing to provide it”. This includes state authorities, other Member States, victims, witnesses and civil society stakeholders. It also added that it will review and analyse extensive documentation of serious rights and humanitarian law violations which were previously gathered by UN bodies. 

The scope and nature of the project

The Council went on to distinguish the Sri Lanka accountability project to other UN-led investigative mechanisms, such as those established for Syria and Myanmar, or independent commissions of inquiry. Resolution 46/1’s mandate is limited to four objectives, which in addition to the evidence collection include, developing possible strategies for future accountability processes, advocating for victims and survivors and supporting judicial and other proceedings, including in Member States, with competent jurisdiction. 

The mandate strengthened the capacity of the OHCHR to carry out these tasks, whereas the mechanisms for Syria and Myanmar, which were established by the UN General Assembly, are “considerably larger in terms of staffing and resources” and are “fully independent bodies, each headed by its own senior UN official”. 

It further elucidated the project’s lack of ability to initiate legal proceedings against alleged perpetrators. “No, this is not a court or a tribunal,” it stated. “The UN has well-established internal processes for such cooperation in judicial and non-judicial contexts, and the OHCHR Sri Lanka accountability project will fully apply those same policies and standards in this work,” it added. 


The project is funded through standard UN budgetary process which will consider and decide on the project’s resources for next year in the course of 2021.

The update also mentioned that the project is separate to the High Commissioner’s reports to the Council. 

Updates to the Council on the progress of the project are next due in March 2022 and a comprehensive report including further options for advancing accountability in September 2022. 

See full update here.

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