UN defends ‘silence on genocide’ in Sri Lanka war crimes report

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has defended the findings of its report on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, which drew criticism from several quarters for its “silence” on genocide in the island nation.

Responding to a question sent by The Hindu in this regard, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the High Commissioner, stated via email: “This [the U.N. report] does not preclude such a finding [that genocide was committed] being made as a result of further criminal investigations, including by the hybrid court that we recommend.”

“The crime of genocide requires specific objective and subjective elements. On the basis of the information we were able to gather, we did not come to the conclusion that these elements were met,” she said.

TH_22_TRK-clari_Ra_2555968eIn February, Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council passed a resolution, blaming successive governments in the country of committing “genocide” against Tamils.

The spokesperson pointed out that given the circumstances in which the investigation was carried out, the OHCHR was able to conduct “a comprehensive investigation”, with over 3,000 written submissions, interviews in 11 countries, photos, videos, and satellite imagery with expert analysis.

However, criticising the report on different counts, including that of relying on the testimony of people whose identity has been kept confidential, former Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, G.L. Peiris, argued that the “purported evidence, on which critical findings are based, is shrouded in secrecy”. “There is, consequently, a breach of the requirements of fairness and transparency even at the basic level.”

He contended that Sri Lanka had every opportunity to use well-established principles of international humanitarian and human rights law, applied with “reasonable uniformity in precedents” across the globe, to make a cogent case for the protection of the military personnel. “Sadly, we seem to be treading instead a different path fraught with the greatest danger.”

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