By Easwaran Rutnam
In what will be a very significant turn of events, China and Russia may back the consensus resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), thus aligning themselves with the Unites States.
Two strong critics of the US, both China and Russia have always maintained the position at the UNHRC that they are against outside interference in the domestic affairs of a country.
Both countries had voted against the US sponsored resolution which resulted in the investigation on Sri Lanka by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
However, the consensus resolution on Sri Lanka to be submitted at the UNHRC this week seeks support for a domestic process with international assistance.
As a result, China and Russia are expected to note some reservations they have about the resolution but will vote in favour or abstain from voting.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said that he believes Sri Lanka’s friends will be on one stage with regards to the resolution when the vote is taken.
The draft text of the resolution will be presented to the UNHRC either on Thursday or Friday, and after further amendments are made, a vote will be taken during the final two days of the ongoing 30th session of the UNHRC.
Several informal meetings on Sri Lanka were held last week and will continue at the UN office in Geneva on the sidelines of the main session.
The Permanent Mission of the US in Geneva has organised some of the meetings to seek support for the new resolution on Sri Lanka while human rights groups and non-governmental organisations have also organised meetings.
Human rights groups are urging the Sri Lanka Government to accept the recommendations in the report of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The UN report has identified patterns of grave violations in Sri Lanka between 2002 and 2011, strongly indicating that war crimes and crimes against humanity were most likely committed by both sides to the conflict. The report recommends the establishment of a hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and investigators, as an essential step towards justice.
“Our investigation has laid bare the horrific level of violations and abuses that occurred in Sri Lanka, including indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, harrowing accounts of torture and sexual violence, recruitment of children, and other grave crimes,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said after releasing the report.
Most serious crimes
Among the most serious crimes documented in the report are sexual and gender-based violence. One shocking finding of the investigation was the extent to which sexual violence was committed against detainees, often extremely brutally, by the Sri Lankan security forces, with men as likely to be victims as women.
The report that noted harrowing testimony from 30 survivors of sexual violence who were interviewed indicates that incidents of sexual violence were not isolated acts but part of a deliberate policy to inflict torture, following similar patterns and using similar tools. The report describes sexual torture which occurred during interrogation sessions, and also patterns of rape, many of which appeared to occur outside of interrogations sessions.
The report found that sexual torture was performed in a wide range of detention locations by different security forces, both during and after the conflict. Not a single perpetrator of sexual violence related to the armed conflict is so far known to have been convicted.
The report also found that extensive recruitment and use of children in armed conflict by the LTTE and by the paramilitary Karuna group, which supported the Government following that group’s spilt from the LTTE in 2004, was also documented.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told reporters on Thursday that a consultation process will begin from the second week of October to formulate the domestic mechanism to investigate the human rights allegations, and it will be completed by the end of January.
He said that from January, the Government will begin implementing the ideas and proposals discussed during the consultation process and hope to complete that process in 18 months.
The US based Human Rights Watch said the call by the United Nations’ top human rights officer for a domestic-international hybrid court to address allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka should receive strong endorsement by members of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva.
“UN member States should strongly support the UN High Commissioner’s recommendation for a hybrid court as the best way to provide justice for all the victims of Sri Lanka’s long civil war,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “The Sri Lankan government should build on the goodwill of the international community and embrace this important initiative.”
The High Commissioner’s report to the HRC, initially due in March, had been deferred until September to allow Sri Lanka’s new government to act on a 2014 HRC resolution. The High Commissioner’s report concludes that the “High Commissioner remains convinced that for accountability to be achieved in Sri Lanka, it will require more than a domestic mechanism. Sri Lanka should draw on the lessons learned and good practices of other countries that have succeeded with hybrid special courts, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty International said that Sri Lanka must deliver on promises to account for alleged crimes under international law and build the domestic culture of human rights necessary to prevent the recurrence of past violations.
“The Government must also win public confidence by taking prompt measures to demonstrate its commitment to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of nonrecurrence. Impunity must end for high profile cases such as the January 2006 extrajudicial executions of five students in Trincomalee by Sri Lankan security personnel and the killing of 17 aid workers with Action Contre La Faim in Mutttur in August 2006. The Government should ensure the speedy conclusion of prosecutions and bring about essential legal and institutional reform, including criminalization of enforced disappearances, legal recognition of command responsibility and the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act,” Amnesty International said.
Findings of OISL
Amnesty International noted that Sri Lanka has promised that domestic investigative and judicial mechanisms under development will take into account the findings of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation (OISL) report.
Amnesty International said the HRC should adopt a resolution supporting the implementation of the investigation’s recommendations aimed at ending impunity, accounting for the past and reforming systems, and ensuring ongoing Human Rights Council engagement including by calling for regular updates to monitor the implementation of the report and the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
He said that while the report is not a criminal investigation, the Government will conduct a criminal investigation if there is evidence to back allegations against any individual.
The Minister also noted that investigations into some incidents were already underway and the Government expects some cases, including the probe into the assassination of The Sunday Leader founding editor Lasantha Wickremetunga, to be completed soon.
“There will be no cover up. We will ensure whoever is behind these ghastly killings are dealt with under the law. We would also like to find out who gave the orders. What is important is the command structure,” he said.
The Minister also said that the Government will obtain international assistance, where required, and domestic experts will decide what assistance needs to be sought from outside.
He also said that during the consultation process, it will be decided whether the Government should agree on a hybrid court as proposed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to deal with some of the allegations related to the war.
Extracts From Draft Resolution To Be Submitted This Week:
Urges the Government of Sri Lanka to investigate all alleged attacks by individuals and groups on journalists, human rights defenders, members of religious minority groups and other members of civil society, as well as on temples, mosques and churches, and to hold perpetrators of such attacks to account and to take steps to prevent such attacks in the future;
Affirms the Government of Sri Lanka’s commitment to review and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and replace it with anti-terrorism legislation in line with contemporary international best practices;
Welcomes the Government of Sri Lanka’s commitment to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances without delay, and to begin issuing Certificates of Absence to the families of the missing as a temporary measure of relief;
Urges the Government of Sri Lanka to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, demilitarize the north and east of Sri Lanka, implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, re-evaluate detention policies, strengthen formerly independent civil institutions, reach a political settlement on the devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right of freedom of expression for all persons and enact rule of law reforms, (HRC 25/1)
Welcomes the Government of Sri Lanka’s commitment to release publicly previous Presidential Commission Reports such as the Udalagama and Paranagama reports by the end of this month, and calls for the release of the results of its investigations into alleged violations by security forces, including the attack on unarmed protesters in Weliweriya on 1 August 2013, and the report of 2013 by the court of inquiry of the Sri Lanka Army; (HRC 25/1)
Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to develop a comprehensive plan and mechanism for preserving all existing records and documentation relating to human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, whether held by public or private institutions;
Urges the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population; and encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that all Provincial Councils, including the Northern Provincial Council, are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka; (HRC 25/1 + new language)
Underlines that the credibility and success of transitional justice processes wherever they are established are enhanced by international assistance and expert involvement, and encourages the Government of Sri Lanka, the people of Sri Lanka, and the High Commissioner, as well as other relevant international organizations and experts, to work together to determine appropriate forms of international support for and engagement with Sri Lanka’s processes;
Encourages the government to address all reports of sexual and gender-based violence and torture, holding all perpetrators to account and drawing on relevant international assistance;
Requests the Office of the High Commissioner to assess and verify the human rights situation in Sri Lanka; to continue to assess progress on the implementation of OHCHR’s recommendations and other relevant processes related to reconciliation, accountability, and human rights; to present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its thirty-third session, and a comprehensive report followed by discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its thirty-fourth session.