UN urged to ensure foreign judges’ participation in war crimes investigation

President’s position on UNHRC resolution

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Alleging that President Maithripala Sirisena has recently undermined a US-led Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) has requested foreign governments to pressure the President to fully implement the proposals. In addition to western powers, the European Union, too, endorsed the Resolution.

UK based GTF spokesperson Suren Surendiran yesterday told The Island that they expected all those who had backed the Resolution 30/1 to ensure that the GoSL fulfilled its obligations.

The 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) unanimously adopted the Resolution on Oct. 1, 2015.

The GTF spokesman was responding to President Maithripala Sirisena’s recent declaration that the proposed inquiry would be wholly a domestic investigation and there was absolutely no requirement for foreign intervention in this matter. The President also rejected international deadline for the launch of the investigation.

A three-member panel of ‘experts’ in March 2011 accused the Sri Lankan military of massacring over 40,000 civilians during the final phase of the offensive on the Vanni east front.

Surendiran emphasised that the Resolution which dealt with accountability issues couldn’t be diluted under any circumstances. In accordance with the resolution, the GoSL had accepted Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorised prosecutors as well as investigators in the proposed judicial processes. “Sri Lanka will breach the provisions of a resolution that it co-sponsored if President Sirisena’s assertions are implemented.”

The GTF pointed out that President Maithripala Sirisena’s stand was contrary to that of the GoSL.

The GTF spokesperson said the grouping and its partners in Sri Lanka as well as outside threw their weight behind the Geneva Resolution as they believed in a genuine process to address accountability issues. Post-war national reconciliation wouldn’t be a reality unless the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government fully implemented the Geneva Resolution, Surendiran warned.

The GTF work closely with the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA). They pursue a common agenda.

TNA spokesperson and Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran told the media in Colombo that President Maithripala Sirisena’s statement was contrary to the Geneva Resolution.

The GTF has also urged United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid to ensure the full implementation of the Resolution 30/1 without any exceptions. Prince Zeid is scheduled to visit Colombo early February.

Responding to a query, Surendiran said the Tamil community expected the GoSL to clarify its position in the wake of President Maithripala Sirisena’s contradictory statement. “We are really disappointed and deeply concerned over the situation,” Surendiran said. The GTF official said the President’s statement had been also contrary to a joint communique issued by the GoSL and European Union on January 21, the same day as the President’s contradiction, reiterating commitment to the full and speedy implementation of the Resolution 30/1.

The October 2015 Resolution had called for a hybrid war crimes court with the participation of Commonwealth and other international judges, Surendiran said.

The GTF alleged that the unexpected position taken by the President had been even contrary to the recommendations made by the Paranagama Commission. Retired High Court judge Maxwell Paranagama has recommended foreign observers as well as international technical assistance to a domestic process.

The GTF warned the President that he would certainly lose the trust unless he adhered to the Resolution.

Surendiran said that the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka released on Sept. 28, 2015, in no uncertain terms explained the pivotal importance of having international intervention in the proposed investigation. The GTF official stressed that Sri Lankan judiciary lacked capacity to inquire into war crimes.

Alleging that President Maithripala Sirisena had obviously distanced himself from commitments made in Geneva, Surendiran recalled Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera assuring the international community of the new government’s resolve to address accountability issues. In this context, the GTF quoted below sections from the speech delivered in the UNHRC on 14 September 2015, by the Lankan Foreign Minister; “…Therefore, I say to the skeptics: Don’t judge us by the broken promises, experiences and u-turns of the past….the Government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has the political will and the courage of their convictions to ensure that we take the country forward, breaking the barriers of ignorance, fear, prejudice and hate….

….My plea to you Ladies and Gentlemen, is: TRUST US and join us to work together and create the momentum required to move forward and take progressive, meaningful and transformative steps to create a new Sri Lanka…”

Current UNHRC members are Albania, Algeria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Botswana, Burundi, China, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Maldives, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) and Vietnam.