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Strong calls for international investigation on first day of HRC session

Opening of Human Rights Council 25th Session (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

Calls for an independent investigation into crimes in Sri Lanka featured strongly on the first day of the 25th UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.

The UK demanded action by the UNHRC into the crimes that occurred in Sri Lanka, in a robust statement to the Council, following on from Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to support an international investigation in November last year.

"The Government of Sri Lanka has failed to ensure independent and credible investigations into alleged violations and abuses committed by both parties during the conflict in Sri Lanka,” said FCO minister, Hugo Swire.

“The time has now clearly come for international action, with regard to Sri Lanka. This council has a duty to act on the findings of the report we collectively commissoned and to establish the truth.”

Canada also declared its support for an international inquiry and summarily dismissed Sri Lanka's previous internal mechanisms as not credible, while warning of a "return to instability" on the island.

Lynne Yelich, the Canadian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Consular, said,

“In the absence of credible actions by the Government of Sri Lanka, Canada supports the call for an international inquiry mechanism.”

The EU called for accountability in Sri Lanka, stating it was the “only way for stability” on the island.

“In Sri Lanka, where the High Commissioner has just issued her report, it is vital that the full truth of past events is made known and accountability be pursued, for this is the only way for stability,” the Greek deputy foreign minister Dimitris Kourkalas, speaking on behalf of the EU, said to the Council.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the High Commissioners’ report on Sri Lanka in his opening statement to the session, warning that the eye of the Council was on human rights abusers.

Earlier today over 200 members of the Christian clergy from the North-East called for an international investigation in a letter to the Council, continuing the consistent calls by Tamil actors.

“Tamil Christian Clergy from North-East Sri Lanka call for an international investigation mechanism from the UN Human Rights Council," the letter said.

Students in Tamil Nadu also protested today, calling on Delhi to lead the call for an international investigation in Geneva.

The latest Tamil Guardian editorial called on the UN Human Rights Council not to compromise on the mechanism of international inquiry needed to ensure accountability and delivery of justice and urged the Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry.

Meanwhile the draft resolution called on the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner to investigate human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, falling short of widespread demands for a Commission of Inquiry.

Tamils Against Genocide said it was a “disappointing start” to the session.

“While it stops short of calling for an international commission of inquiry or other international mechanism, it rolls over consideration of this issue to the twenty eighth session. This is a disappointing start both for Tamil victims/survivors and for INGOs who have campaigned for a International Investigation into Sri Lanka's mass atrocities of 2009 to be mandated by the Human Rights Council in this 25th session,” a statement by the organisation said.

The Canadian Tamil Congress said that the draft failed to offer any meaningful progress on the issues and said it effectively muted the calls for a Commission of Inquiry.

"[A] proposed draft of a new resolution on Sri Lanka, revealed on Monday, fails to offer any meaningful progress towards accountability, let alone reconciliation. The proposed resolution effectively mutes the chorus of calls for an International Commission of Inquiry, and instead continues to give Sri Lanka time and space. The proposal appears to seek the High Commissioner’s assistance in undertaking an investigation, however, it does not give her the mandate, resources, or direction to investigate and make a legal finding of fact." the statement said.

In a damning critique of the draft text, the British Tamils Forum said it was "dismayed" and urged the UK government to honour the promises made by the Prime Minister David Cameron to the Tamil community.

"The insubstantial draft resolution on Sri Lanka that was released yesterday at the United Nations Human Rights council (UNHRC) has greatly disappointed and shocked the Tamil people,"

"The resolution text effectively calls for more of the same: it requests another update by the Human Rights Commissioner in a year’s time and makes another call on Sri Lanka to launch a credible domestic inquiry – despite the Human Rights Commissioner herself declaring that Sri Lanka has no political will to investigate itself.

Five years on from the terrible massacres of 2009, the Tamil people have been told to put up with another year of lost land, lost people, further curtailment of rights, physical and sexual abuse. A state that is moving in an “increasingly authoritarian direction”, according to the Human Rights High Commissioner, has inexplicably been given yet more time and space."

The US Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC) also expressed "deep disappointment" with the draft resolution.

USTPAC said the absence of a clear call for an international investigation in Sri Lanka has “shocked the international human rights community, civil society and advocacy organisations”, and called for the inclusion of a Commission of Inquiry in the resolution.

“Permitting the Sri Lankan government to thumb its nose at the international human rights community only encourages impunity and further mass atrocities in Sri Lanka and elsewhere,” the president of the group, Karunyan Arulanantham said, in a statement released on Tuesday.