Sri Lanka needs to provide answers says Rapporteur

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, says any accountability strategy in Sri Lanka needs to provide answers to key basic questions.

He also said that Sri Lanka has the potential to constitute an example for the region and for the world of how a sustainable peace ought to be achieved.

In a statement made during the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council today, Pablo de Greiff said that one largely untouched aspect in the area of ‘guarantees of non-recurrence’ is the provision of psychosocial support and trauma counselling.

a_history_of_un_intervention_966075He said that this area of work is central for repairing the social contract (the relationship between the State and the individual) and social cohesion (relationships of individuals with one another) after periods of violence and/or oppression.

These twin goals are essential to offering victims and society the highest possible guarantees available that violations will not reoccur.

“I am confident that the earlier described framework to design an effective State policy on non-recurrence will be useful for Sri Lanka, which I visited in an advisory role in March/April 2015.  At the end of the visit I noted that – if handled well, the case of Sri Lanka has the potential to constitute an example for the region and for the world of how a sustainable peace ought to be achieved,” he said.

Pablo de Greiff noted that to fully realize this potential Sri Lanka needs to work on parallel tracks. On the one hand, a deliberate process needs to be devised by which the country will move ahead towards a comprehensive transitional justice strategy addressing the manifold challenges the country is facing such as the in-depth reform of the justice system and the security sector (military, police, intelligences services included), the establishment of independent truth-seeking mechanisms, the design of a comprehensive reparation scheme to name a few.

He said that such process needs to be guided by carefully designed and conducted consultations (not a one-off consultation) that will involve all sectors of Sri Lankan society, and foremost victims of past gross violations.

The UN Special Rapporteur said that a firm commitment by the authorities is indispensable to take such long-term process forward.

Simultaneously, he said immediate action must include clarifying the fate of the disappeared, , addressing land issues, making sure that long-standing practices of arbitrary detentions; of surveillance and harassment–particularly of women in the Eastern and Northern provinces, many of them already victims of the conflict—have really come to an end, and last but not least, providing psycho-social support to victims. Progress on each of these domains together with concrete steps in relation to ensuring criminal accountability, such as the prevention of the destruction of archives, including those in the hands of the military and the intelligences services; the gathering of evidence to prepare future criminal cases; the establishment of a truly effective witness and victims’ scheme, directed by an entity which would be genuinely trusted by the victims in particular.

“The results of the numerous past commissions of inquiry and the failed efforts to provide for criminal accountability have severely eroded the trust of the victims and society. As I stated before, 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,” he said.

The UN Special Rapporteur said that 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.