South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Janith Aranze

As the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) concluded its 16th sessions last week, Amnesty International became the latest international organisation to voice its concerns over the issue of accountability since the civil war ended in Sri Lanka in 2009. Yolanda Foster, of Amnesty International, expressed her concern at the role the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has played in dealing with the matter of accountability.

She states that the Commission failed to look into alleged violations of human rights or  establish accountability for violations, “Recommendations by the Commission to date have been limited to problem solving, such as suggesting procedural reforms to help people to trace missing relatives, rather than investigating allegations of abuse or bringing perpetrators to justice” Foster said.  It is not the first time that the LLRC has been questioned over its ability to handle the issue of accountability in the appropriate way.

She goes on to criticise the LLRC for not forcing the government to explain the many misrepresentations during the conflict.  Such misrepresentations included the figure of 100,000 civilians, which the government claimed was the number of people left in the Wanni at the beginning of 2009, however officials later conceded the figure was nearer to 300,000 civilians.  Though the LLRC has been criticised for the way it has handled the issue of accountability, it did achieve some degree of success in the North and East, where civilians came forward in their thousands to report incidences of abuse.

However even in these circumstances the Commission was ill-equipped to deal with the sheer volume of people, “Reports of Northern proceedings describe a Commission that was ill-prepared to deal with the large numbers of civilians coming forward with complaints,” Foster explains.  If the Sri Lankan government is committed to reconciliation then they must provide a better witness protection scheme and “public grievances about the treatment of civilians during the war must be given adequate scope and resources to allow for individuals to receive a fair hearing and sufficient authority to ensure redress,” Foster advises.

As a result of the LLRC’s shortcomings Amnesty International has stated that it does not feel a domestic mechanism on accountability is possible in Sri Lanka and therefore recommends an international one.  Amnesty International revealed that in normal circumstances it would always give its backing to a domestic process, however given the ‘ad hoc’ nature of commissions in Sri Lanka an international mechanism for accountability would be more desirable.

Ban-Ki Moon’s Panel of Experts in Sri Lanka, set-up in June 2010, was appointed to do precisely this job.  It is well known that the Panel has taken its time to release their findings; however it is believed that they will be able to hand over their report on accountability come the end of this month.  It was put into doubt whether the Panel would release its report to the public, though Amnesty has said that the report ‘must’ be issued publicly.  They have also called upon the UNHRC, among other bodies, to act upon what the report finds; “The Human Rights Council and other UN bodies should consider its findings carefully and support Sri Lanka in their struggle for truth, justice and healing.”

With the Human Rights Council concluding its 16th sessions last week in Geneva, the issue of accountability is still as important today as it was immediately after the civil war ended. No doubt that this issue would have been discussed in Geneva, but tangible action needs to be witnessed as international organisations continue to pressurise the UN into taking a more prominent role.

Source: The Sunday Leader – 27.03.2010