Tamil World Forum calls for firm resolution on Sri Lanka

The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) has called for a strong resolution on Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.

In a statement, the GTF said that for the Tamil people who suffered tremendously during the war, and indeed for the victims of human rights abuses from all communities who are denied accountability and justice in Sri Lanka, the HRC has always provided much needed hope.

The role played by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is crucial in this regard. GTF expresses its sincere gratitude to Michelle Bachelet for her exemplary service as High Commissioner until last month and welcomes new High Commissioner Volker Turk to this important role.

It is clear from the High Commissioner’s report that the unprecedented economic crisis in Sri Lanka has its roots in its long history of irresponsible governance coupled with ethnic conflict and war. The report asserts that “deepening militarization and lack of transparency and accountability in governance have reinforced impunity for serious human rights violations and created an environment conducive to corruption and abuse. to be able to “. For the first time concerning Sri Lanka, the UN review recommends “the investigation of economic crimes that have an impact on human rights and the search and recovery of stolen assets”.

The High Commissioner’s report also recognizes the opportunity presented by the economic crisis to open a new path spurred by widespread demand from all communities for deeper reform and accountability. And the report recommends “more fundamental constitutional reform through a broad consultative process to strengthen democratic checks and balances and the decentralization of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights. man by all the members of his population”.

However, the report is highly critical of the hardline approach taken by Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government – including the continued use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to detain student leaders and continue to to hold Tamil and Muslim prisoners long term, despite years of promises to repeal and rescind the recent commitment to a de facto moratorium on its use. And the report calls for an immediate end to the use of draconian security laws to suppress peaceful protests, reverse the drift towards militarization and show a renewed commitment to carrying out security sector reform and ending corruption. ‘impunity.

The OHCHR report notes that in 2022, Defense was allocated 373.1 billion rupees (then $1.86 billion), which was 15% of total government expenditure, and that was more than double what was allocated to Health. Such high defense spending in a country in major financial crisis and that too for defense activities disproportionately concentrated in the North East where their actions only prevent a return to normal, defies all logic.

GTF would like to emphasize that the genesis (from 2009) and continuing drive of the HRC process has been to address the issue of accountability for wartime atrocities during the war and to promote reconciliation among all communities . It is on this aspect that the High Commissioner’s report is most scathing. The Easter attack (2019) is now part of a long list of emblematic cases where the search for the truth was deliberately made impossible.

The OHCHR report states unambiguously: “The Sri Lankan state, through successive governments, has consistently failed to pursue an effective transitional justice process to hold perpetrators accountable and to uphold victims’ rights to truth.” , justice and reparation. On the contrary, they have created political barriers to accountability and have actively promoted and embedded some military officials credibly implicated in war crimes at the highest levels of government.

The report identifies that even symbolic government initiatives, such as the Office for Missing Persons (OMP), have lost the trust of victims’ relatives, following a series of problematic appointments to the president and commissioners. Indeed, the OMP has not been able to locate a single missing person or clarify the fate of the missing in any meaningful way and it is focused on quickly closing cases and issuing families with “certificates of absence”. “.

The High Commissioner’s report calls on Sri Lanka to “revive a comprehensive victim-centred strategy on transitional justice and accountability, in order to establish a credible truth-seeking mechanism and a special ad hoc tribunal”. This statement is unambiguous insofar as, in OHCHR’s view, after 13 years of solemn promises and commitments to its citizens and to the international community, the accountability project in Sri Lanka is at an impasse.

In reality, Sri Lanka has gone through many distinct phases in its handling of war-related accountability issues – outright denial at first; monitoring half-hearted actions and perceived cooperation through internal investigations and co-sponsorship of HRC resolutions; and finally buy time hoping that the problem disappears. But it is to the credit of the international community, the core group of countries, the NGOs and the United Nations system that their attention has never wavered. In fact, there has been a gradual build-up of initiatives – the Secretary-General’s Panel on Accountability in Sri Lanka (2011); Secretary-General’s Internal Review Committee on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka (2012); OHCHR Survey on Sri Lanka (2015) and OHCHR Accountability Project pursuant to resolution 46/1, paragraph 6 (2021).

The High Commissioner’s report indicates that the OHCHR Accountability Project has been fully staffed and operational since May and focuses on four components: “Collection, consolidation, analysis and preservation of information and evidence”; “Develop possible strategies for other accountability processes”; “Defend victims and survivors” and “Support relevant legal and other proceedings”. It is pleasing to note that OHCHR has received requests from national authorities for information and evidence regarding eight individuals, as well as a number of alleged violations, and we strongly support the High Commissioner’s call for “renewal of the mandate and capacity building of OHCHR”. for its specialized accountability project.

Importantly, now is the time to explore other options for advancing accountability in Sri Lanka. The High Commissioner’s report refers to communications submitted in October and November 2021 to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court requesting that the Prosecutor exercise jurisdiction over alleged crimes that occurred in part on the territory of States Parties (to the Rome Statute) .

The report calls on “states to cooperate with accountability efforts, including available avenues of extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes under international law” and “to explore other measures, including targeted sanctions, restrictive measures and travel bans on those credibly implicated in serious crimes.

It is in this context that the international community must consider the announcement by Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabri that the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe would not accept any external mechanism and would not seek internal arrangements to seek truth within the framework of the Sri Lankan constitution. After 13 years of dithering and deception, and co-sponsoring resolutions (30/1, 34/1) that called for the establishment of a hybrid tribunal with international participation, that too by a government when Ranil Wickremesinghe was Prime Minister, the Sri Lanka now wants to go back to square one and start all over again. The absurdity of this proposition will not be lost on any careful observer of Sri Lanka.

We also thank India for its comments during the interactive dialogue on Sri Lanka: the Indian delegation notes with concern the lack of measurable progress by the Sri Lankan government on its commitments to a political solution to the ethnic question – through the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, delegation of powers to Provincial Councils and the holding of Provincial Council elections as soon as possible. The HRC process should facilitate the devolution of political authority to the northern and eastern provinces by building on the 13th Amendment and finding a lasting political solution to ensure the violent past does not recur.

GTF believes that Sri Lanka is at a crossroads. The nascent transformation that Sri Lanka is currently undergoing is significant and there is a developing environment where irresponsible government will be under increased scrutiny. In addition to wartime liability, legal, financial and other governance liabilities also receive special attention. Unfortunately, many of the recent actions of the Ranil Wickremasinghe government are not conducive to promoting this healthy development. Regardless, this emerging trend needs to be dutifully promoted by the international community, which can only be achieved by adopting a well-targeted HRC resolution. The new resolution should build on key aspects of the March 2021 HRC resolution (A/HRC/RES/46/1) and reflect the full set of recommendations listed in the High Commissioner’s February and September reports. 2022. that the reports requested in the proposed resolution should be transmitted to all relevant United Nations bodies and to the Secretary-General for action.

The GTF also fully endorsed the request from Human Rights Watch and 3 other NGOs calling on the HRC to adopt a resolution that: Strengthens the monitoring and reporting mandate, establishing an expert mechanism to monitor and report to the General Assembly) on the current rights situation in Sri Lanka and make concrete recommendations to ensure the protection and realization of rights. It is also incumbent upon Member States, including the core group of Sri Lanka, to adequately fund the increased reach and capacity of the Sri Lanka Accountability Project throughout the new period envisaged in the resolution. (Colombo Official Gazette)

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Melvin B. Baillie