Members of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Human Rights Chief “should press the (Sri Lankan) government to follow through on its commitment to meaningful forms of international participation on the proposed special court for war crimes,” said the International Crisis Group's Sri Lanka Senior Analyst Alan Keenan.
In a piece entitled “Impunity and Justice: Why the UN Human Rights Council Must Stay Engaged in Sri Lanka” Mr Keenan stated that despite committing to a UN resolution last year, “Sri Lanka today is not yet the success story that many in the international community claim it to be”.
“Progress on implementing the Council resolution has been slow and often grudging, and there are growing doubts about the government’s political will and ability to see the complex process through,” he added. “For Sri Lanka to stay on the path toward recovery, it needs sustained international support and engagement.”
Since the UN resolution was passed in September, Sri Lankan leaders have repeatedly backtracked from commitments made, in particular the inclusion of foreign judges in an accountability mechanism for mass atrocities. Mr Keenan noted that “under domestic pressure, the president and prime minister backed away from promises to the UN and announced there will be no foreign judges”.
“Given the decades-long failures of government commissions and judicial processes, international participation is essential to the credibility and effectiveness of the special court,” he continued.
“Council members should insist that the government holds the line on the involvement of international judges, at least in observer roles, and devises concrete plans for outside experts to be included in investigations, prosecutions, forensics and witness protection.”
Stating that “prosecution of military personnel, particularly with foreign legal involvement, was always sure to be the most controversial aspect of transitional justice for many Sinhalese,” he said “there needs to be a clear strategy to address Sinhala nationalist resistance, including by actively promoting the benefits of transitional justice for all communities”.
“Instead, the president, prime minister and other key officials have regularly retreated when criticised by Rajapaksa and his nationalist supporters.”
Mr Keenan also noted that the “past six months have seen very little progress on the key issues of concern to Tamils in the north and east – concerns reflected in the text of last year’s Council resolution: the release of hundreds of detainees held under the PTA, the return of land held by the military, investigations into the tens of thousands of forcibly disappeared people, and the removal of the military from civilian affairs in the north and east. Indeed, progress has been so slow and grudging that what were intended to be confidence-building measures have become confidence-weakening measures”.
“Trust in the government’s good intentions has also been damaged by the tight and often intimidating surveillance of Tamil civil society activists by military and police, and by unwarranted arrests,” he added.
“The president and prime minister appear wary of asserting their authority over the military, and there has been little movement toward developing a longer-term plan for security sector reform.”
Read his full piece here.