In an unprecedented show of unity, major Tamil political leaders, Tamil civil society actors and Tamil victim community representatives have signed a statement declaring that there is "no scope" for a domestic accountability mechanism within Sri Lanka and jointly called for an international accountability process, including a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The joint statement, which was released ahead of a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in March, calls for member states to pass a "final resolution" on Sri Lanka that "must declare that Sri Lanka has failed in its obligations to investigate allegations of violations committed during the armed ethnic conflict and atrocity crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes".
The parties went on to call for an International Independent Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM) to be established "with a strict time frame of twelve months duration".
The signatories reiterate;
It is now time for Member States to acknowledge that there is no scope for a domestic process that can genuinely deal with accountability in Sri Lanka.
They go on to specify that a call for an IIIM should not detract from a referral to the ICC but instead should be established as a “subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly with a strict time frame of twelve months duration”. They further specify that the ICC should “inquire into the crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
Read the full statement here.
No prospect for accountability
The signatories detail the history of failed UN resolutions on Sri Lanka, noting that “leaders across the political spectrum in Sri Lanka including from both the major political parties have categorically and without exception stated that they will protect the Sri Lankan armed forces from prosecutions”.
The statement adds
"The continuing and intensifying oppression against the Tamils including militarisation, indefinite detention of political prisoners, land grab in the name of archaeological explorations, the denial of traditional, collective land rights like cattle grazing rights, intensifying surveillance of political and civil society activists, the denial of burial rights during COVID19 to our Muslim brethren and the denial of the right to memory underscore the urgency of addressing the deteriorating situation.
It goes on to add,
In such a context the Resolution must acknowledge that there is no prospect for accountability in Sri Lanka by way of its own domestic mechanisms or through hybrid mechanisms.
Listed below are the four requests made in the joint statement.
- Member States urge in the new resolution that other organs of the United Nations including the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly take up the matter and take suitable action by reference to the International Criminal Court and any other appropriate and effective international accountability mechanisms to inquire into the crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
- The President of the UNHRC refers matters on accountability in Sri Lanka back to the UN Secretary General for action as stated above.
- Member States to mandate the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to continue to monitor Sri Lanka for ongoing violations and have an OHCHR field presence in country.
- Without detracting from that which has been stated in point 1 above, take steps to establish an evidence gathering mechanism similar to the International Independent Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM) in relation to Syria established as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly with a strict time frame of twelve months duration.
The statement has been signed by
- Leader of the Tamil National Alliance, R. Sampanthan
- Leader of the Tamil National People’s Front, G.G. Ponnambalam
- Leader of the Tamil Makkal Tesiya Kootani, C.V. Wigneswaran
- Rev. Fr. Leo Armstrong from the Tamil Heritage Forum in Mullativu
- Sabharathinam Sivayohanathan from the Eastern Province Civil Society Forum
- President of the Amparai Civil Society Forum, Rasalingham Vikneswaran
- General Secretary of the Tamil Civil Society Forum (TCSF), Amarasingham Gajenthiran
- President of the Association of Relatives of the Enforced Disappearances of the North and East, Yogarasa Kanagaranjini
- President of the Tamil Vaalvurimai Iyakkam (TTIVI), Subramanium Sivaharan
- Velan Swamikal from the organisation known as Sivaguru Anatheenam
- Bishop of Trincomalee, Rt. Rev. Dr C. Noel Emmanuel
Families of the disappeared stage a protest in 2019.
Discussions around a joint call to the global body have taken place over the last several weeks, with families of the disappeared expressing their satisfaction that a common position had been reached.
“We are united in the demand to take Sri Lankan war criminals before the International Criminal Court," said a representative of the families of the disappeared earlier this month. "We have been asking for the ICC since 2018. We must unite and work together as one voice in order for it to be valuable.”