Sri Lankan opposition to foreign judges worries US; UK stresses devolution

COLOMBO: At the on-going session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at Geneva on Wednesday, the US expressed concern over the Sri Lankan government’s statements against having foreign judges in the judicial mechanism it is to set up to try war crimes cases. But the UK laid stress on the importance of devolving power to the Tamils to bring about post-war reconciliation.

William J. Mozdzierz, the US representative said that the government’s statements against international participation in any future Sri Lankan judicial mechanism “raise understandable concerns among victims and families about the integrity of any judicial process.”

Reminding Colombo about its commitment to have foreign judges as per the resolution it co-sponsored at the September 2015 session of the UNHRC, the US delegate said: “Lasting peace requires that the government remain committed in word and deed to implementing its international commitments fully.”

Worried over the slow progress towards reconciliation, he said: “ We encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to make public a strategy and timetable for implementation of the reforms and commitments outlined in this Council’s Resolution 30/1.” “ Priorities should be reforming the constitution, operationalizing the Office of Missing Persons, passing new counterterrorism legislation, establishing a truth commission, continuing releases of military-occupied land, and implementing fully all outstanding international commitments.”

“These reconciliation processes are complex, but we had hoped to see greater and more sustained progress over the past 18 months.” “ While over 4,500 acres of land have been returned to private owners, many thousands of acres seized during the conflict period remain under military control. While arbitrary and illegal actions by security officials appear vastly reduced from the number reported during the previous government, we are concerned by reports of continued arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, sexual violence, and harassment by security officials.”

But Mozdzierz acknowledged that since September 2015, when the last UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka was passed, Sri Lanka has taken “important steps toward implementing its key human rights, justice, and reconciliation commitments. “ “In particular, we commend the government’s public consultations with civil society and victims across Sri Lanka. We also recognize the joint efforts of President Sirisena, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, and Opposition Leader Sampanthan in drafting a new, more inclusive and democratic constitution, passing legislation to establish an Office of Missing Persons, and ratifying the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.”

UK stresses need for devolution

In his statement, the British delegate did not mention the issue of foreign judges but called for a “credible” transitional justice mechanism among other things.

While noting progress in democratization and restoration of checks and balances in the constitution, the UK delegate said that still much remains to be done. He commended the work of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms but asked the Sri Lankan government to give due consideration to its recommendations.

He urged the government of Sri Lanka to provide the “determined leadership required to deliver fully on the commitments it made when co-sponsoring resolution 30/01 and to develop a comprehensive and time bound implementation strategy.” “In particular, we (the UK) would encourage the Government to deliver meaningful devolution through constitutional reform, establish credible transitional justice mechanisms, return all remaining military-held private land and replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act with human rights compliant legislation,” the UK delegate said.

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