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UN official calls for immediate action to achieve transitional justice

In his report to the Human Rights Council today, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, called on Sri Lanka to take immediate action necessary to achieve sustainable peace.

Mr de Greiff called on Sri Lanka to develop a comprehensive transitional justice strategy that included in-depth reform of the justice and security systems, the establishment of independent truth-seeking mechanisms and the design of a comprehensive reparation scheme, among other things; and, in parallel, to take immediate action on the fate of the disappeared, land issues, arbitrary detentions, surveillance and harassment, particularly of women in the North-East, and psycho-social support for victims. He added that these steps needed to be taken “in relation to ensuring criminal accountability".

Addressing Sri Lanka’s past history of failed commissions he highlighted the failure of past commissions of inquiry and the resulting erosion of trust of victims and society.

"…at this critical juncture, the country cannot afford to simply reproduce an approach characterized by the proliferation of deliberately half-hearted initiatives that lack basic trust by the population and that have failed to remedy fundamental institutional deficiencies. These systemic deficiencies resulting from the long-entrenched discrimination, the 30-year long conflict and the subsequent repressive regime have not disappeared over night."

Speaking on the demand for an international accountability mechanism, he said,

"The debate about whether accountability procedures should be national or international is a proxy for the basic questions of how to guarantee that whatever institutions are set up can be reliably trusted by citizens to do their job independently, and of where the specialized capacities to carry out complex investigations into mass atrocities are going to come from. Any accountability strategy needs to provide answers to these basic questions."

Sri Lanka was not present in council for the delivery of his report and did not provide any comment on it during the ensuing interactive dialogue.

Mr Greiff, stressed the importance of truth, justice and reparation for Sri Lanka to move forward.

Speaking later in the day at a press conference he said,

“If Sri Lanka consults victims and stakeholders in a systematic way and enables institutions to act independently there is a good chance of establishing the fundamental role of a truth and justice process. However there is still a lot to be done to achieve these conditions.”

"In the meantime there are some immediate actions that the government needs to undertake including: much more work on the disappeared, much more work on providing psychosocial support to victims, and much more work on consulting victims and others about what the process will look like."

Commenting on discussion on whether the findings of the report should be addressed through an international or domestic accountability process, the special rapporteur, said,

"On the accountability procedure, which has been the subject of a great deal of discussion. the fundamental questions will be what kind of procedure will be capable of gaining the trust of the citizens, particularly of those that for the longest time have received no evidence of gov’t willingness to take the issue of accountability seriously. And secondly, how to make up for the deficit in the technical expertise which is necessary to carry out mass atrocity investigations"

Stressing the necessity to clearly outline how expertise will be acquired for an accountability process, Mr Greiff added,

“This is not a question of tinkering with forms of existing tribunals, or creating a special chamber. Without special skills and an explanation of how those skills are going to be acquired, I will be one of the first to pose those questions.”

Responding to a question by Tamil Guardian on how the Sri Lankan government could build confidence of the Tamil people in a domestic process, he said,

“"This is not question that is being raised in the abstract but against a background in which for many many years a good part of the population has had absolutely no reason to trust the efforts that were being conducted…but it is important for everyone to disaggregate elements of what constitutes a credible mechanism….The need for Sri Lanka to establish credible mechanisms of accountability is now beyond dispute..."

"In this period it is very important for focused measures to be established that do not deal exclusively with the victims from one community, but that deal with human rights violations generally, regardless of the identity of the victim or of the perpetrator if the country does what is necessary in order to design a comprehensive transitional justice policy. If it consults with victims and other stakeholders in a systematic ways; if it enables institutions to act independently, there is a very good chance that the measures that we can establish will play their intended role"

Mr Greif concluded,

"So contrary to the tendency in many countries, I might say Sri Lanka included, the idea is not so much to create...completely independent isolated initiatives but rather to design and to implement in consultation with victims, a comprehensive policy that includes  portfolios and for example establishes significant relationships between truth telling, justice, reparations and measures of institutional reform"