In advance of the 46th UN Human Rights Council session, a number of former UN officials and international experts have called for Sri Lanka to be referred to the International Criminal Court; for UN member states to “to pursue justice through universal or extraterritorial jurisdiction”; and for “targeted sanctions against credibly alleged perpetrators of international crimes”.
This statement follows, and is in support of, a damning report by the UN’s current Human Rights High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, who warned that a failure to hold Sri Lanka accountable has “significantly heightened the risk for future violations”.
The joint statement further highlighted Sri Lanka’s deteriorating human rights situation highlighting “the militarisation of civilian government functions”, including the appointment of alleges war criminals; “the reversal of constitutional safeguards; “new sources of political obstruction of accountability for crimes and human rights violations”; “an increase in majoritarian rhetoric and exclusionary policies targeting Tamils and Muslims”; and, “unceasing surveillance and intimidation of civil society and shrinking democratic space”.
They further note that these issues arise in a context of “ongoing harassment, intimidation, torture, abduction, and sexual violence". The statement reiterates calls for Sri Lanka to pull back from its aggressive policies and to desist from using the Prevention of Terrorism Act as well as end the threats and harassment of opposition politicians and human rights and civil society groups.
Sri Lanka, the statement notes, has chosen to take a path of “reaffirming exclusion and marginalisation, weakening the rule of law and hollowing out independent institutions, harassing and persecuting those who seek justice” and is “sowing the seeds of conflict”.
Responding to the Sri Lankan governments launch of yet another domestic inquiry, the international experts and UN officials described the ad-hoc commission as “an exercise of ‘meta-investigation'”.
Further they stated that it had gotten “to a point that would be laughable were it not for the seriousness of what is at stake”.
Reflecting on the massacres in Mullivaikkal, in which an estimated 70,000 Tamil civilians were slaughtered, the statement notes; “In 2009 the international community failed Sri Lanka. We must not fail again”.
They further stressed that part of their failure was a consensus which emerged and placed faith in national institutions. This approach, the statement maintains, “presupposes sincere and effective commitment to addressing the root cause of violations and conflict”. It is here that they critique not only the current administration but the previous government for it “lacked the ability or the will to achieve sustainable progress in the implementation of these commitments”. They highlight that it was the previous administration that failed to establish “the promised truth commission and special court for international crimes”.
The Rajapaksa administration
The current administration has explicitly rejected these commitments and, whilst establishing an ad-hoc commission to examine previous human rights commissions, has used the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Political Victimisation to obstruct justice and pushed for compensating perpetrators.
“After actively obstructing investigations into serious cases of abduction, disappearance and assassination”, the report highlights this commission has “recommended not just that the charges against every accused in the emblematic cases highlighted by the UN should be dismissed and that those that were accused be given compensation, but that charges should be filed against complainants, investigators, and prosecutors”.
The statement goes on to point out that the commission has also called for a “ Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry, with the power to punish ministers in the previous government, and allied parliamentarians, who devised new mechanisms for the investigation and prosecution of corruption and backed police inquiries into some of Sri Lanka’s most notable political killings and abductions”.
Those who would be targeted by such a commission make up Sri Lanka’s political opposition and face the prospect of “being banned from holding public office for up to 7 years”.
The statement ends noting that;
“Given the continued reluctance of the Sri Lankan Government to meaningfully uphold the human rights of all only, only decisive international action to ensure justice and accountability can interrupt Sri Lanka’s period cycles of violence”.
The signatories of this document include;
- Juan Manuel Santos, The Elders, Former President of Colombia (2010-2018) and Nobel Peace Prize Winner (2016)
- Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations (2012-2016)
- Adama Dieng, Former Special Adviser to the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide (2012 – 2020)
- Mary Robinson, The Elders, Former President of Ireland (1990- 97), former United Nations High Commissioners for Human Rights (1997 – 2002).
- Louise Arbour, former United Nations High Commissioners for Human Rights (2004 – 2008).
- Navanethem Pillay, former United Nations High Commissioners for Human Rights (2008 – 2014).
- Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, former United Nations High Commissioners for Human Rights (2014-2018)
Former Special Rapporteur mandate-holders
- Philip Alston, former Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (2004 – 2010).
- Pablo de Greiff, former Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence (2012-2018).
- Ben Emmerson, former Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism (2011 – 2017).
- Christof Heyns, former Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (2010– 2016).
- David Kaye, former Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (2014 - 2020).
- Maina Kiai, former Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (2011 – 2017).
- Gay MacDougall, former Special Rapporteur on minority issues (2005 – 2011).
- Juan E. Mendez, former Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (2010-2016).
- Manfred Nowak, former Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (2010-2016).
Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka (2010-2011)
- Marzuki Darusman
- Yasmin Sooka
- Steven Ratner
The full statement can be read here.