South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The global rights organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Monday called on the Sri Lankan government to fulfill its commitments to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) by ensuring that foreign judges and prosecutors play a significant role in the mandated accountability mechanism for wartime abuses.

Referring to a statement made by President Maithripala Sirisena to the BBC on January 21 that he will not agree to international involvement as Sri Lanka “have more than enough specialists, experts and knowledgeable people in our country to solve our internal issues,”, the HRW said the consensual resolution agreed at the UNHRC in October 2015 cannot be negotiated.

“Human Rights Council member and observer countries that backed the consensus October 2015 resolution, should make clear that foreign participation in a war crimes tribunal was already decided by the council and is not subject to renegotiation,” the HRW stressed.

After adoption of the resolution, Sri Lanka told the council that it was pleased to join as a co-sponsor “as a further manifestation of Sri Lanka’s commitment to implement the provisions of the resolution, in a manner that its objectives are shared by the people and all stakeholders in the country, for their benefit.”

“The Sri Lankan government sought international involvement to ensure justice and accountability so there’s no excuse for backtracking now,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “President Sirisena needs to understand that international participation in a war crimes tribunal was not a vague promise to the UN but a firm commitment to the thousands of Sri Lankans who suffered during the country’s long civil war.”

President Sirisena’s statement comes just weeks before a scheduled visit to the country by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. The High Commissioner is expected to arrive in the island on February 5th.

The rights body pointed out that the high commissioner’s office released a report detailing wartime abuses by both sides, calling for a “hybrid” justice mechanism given the shortcomings of domestic institutions to ensure impartial investigations and witness protection, and the Sri Lankan government’s failure to take meaningful accountability measures since the war ended in May 2009.

The 2015 Human Rights Council resolution affirms the importance of participation in a justice mechanism of “Commonwealth and other foreign judges � and authorized prosecutors and investigators.”

“In line with its commitments, the government should be implementing its plans for a war crimes tribunal with international participation, a Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation, and Non-recurrence, and an Office on Missing Persons,” the Human Rights Watch said.

The HRW says the progress on those commitments has been slow and not wholly transparent.

It points out that although a task force on consultations on the Human Rights Council resolution has been established, there is not much public information about its mandate and terms of reference.

“Victims and their representative groups have not been informed about the consultation, leaving many feeling isolated and shut out from a process ostensibly intended to provide real justice to them. The recent statements by the president and prime minister, who said that all missing persons are presumed dead, raise concerns that consultations will merely be window dressing for a predetermined outcome,” HRW further said.

“The countries that worked so closely with Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council last year have a responsibility to ensure that this important resolution will be properly adopted,” Adams said. “The real rights gains made by the Sirisena administration will rapidly fade if the families of wartime victims feel that their one hope for justice was dropped on the basis of political calculations.”

Updated On: Jan 25, 2016