OHCHR Strengthens Probe

sri-lanka 2By Easwaran Rutnam

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has strengthened its investigation on the war in Sri Lanka, by adding more clauses to the terms of reference (TOR) which includes a clause on the assistance expected from foreign governments, and the basis under which findings of the investigation will be accepted.

The new clauses note that consistent with the practice of other United Nations fact-finding bodies, the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) will base its findings on “reasonable grounds to believe” standard of proof. The terms of reference states there are reasonable grounds to believe that an incident or pattern of violations or crimes occurred if the OISL has obtained a reliable body of information, consistent with other information, indicating their occurrence.

This standard of proof may be sufficiently high to call for judicial investigations into violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and international crimes.

With regard to assessing information that identifies alleged individuals to have been involved in the violations, the OISL will comply with the standards that require a reliable body of material consistent with other verified circumstances, which tend to show that a person may reasonably be suspected of being involved in the commission of a crime.

The OISL will not make final judgments as to criminal guilt; rather, it would make an assessment of possible suspects that may pave the way for future criminal investigations.

Meanwhile a new clause also states other governments in whose territory the OISL may interview victims, witnesses and sources, and gather information, are invited to cooperate with the investigation.

The terms of reference called on the government to cooperate with the probe in a manner which entails freedom of movement throughout the territory; unhindered access to all places and establishments; freedom to meet and interview representatives of national, local and military authorities, community leaders, non-governmental organizations and other institutions, and any such person whose testimony is considered necessary for the fulfilment of its mandate; and free access to all sources of information, including documentary material and physical evidence.

The added clause also notes that experts of the OISL shall enjoy the privileges and immunities accorded to experts on mission under Article IV of the 1948 Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN, and the OHCHR staff of the OISL shall enjoy the privileges and immunities of officials under Article V and VII of the Convention in the conduct of the investigation.

All governments are reminded of this obligation and are invited to ensure that facilities necessary for the independent conduct of the investigation are provided.

The Sri Lankan government has already said it will not support the investigations and has sought the support of other countries against the probe.