COLOMBO: The United Nations report on war crimes in Sri Lanka has recommended the establishment of an internationalised Special Court to try cases of war crimes committed by both the Lankan armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The report, which was released at the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on Wednesday, identified “grave violations” between 2002 and 2011, which “strongly” indicated that “war crimes and crimes against humanity” were most likely committed by both sides to the conflict.
The report recommends the establishment of a “hybrid” special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, as an “essential step” towards justice. The court will have international as well as Lankan personnel at every level.
According to the report, investigations had revealed “horrific level” of violations and abuses that occurred in Lanka, including indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, harrowing accounts of torture and sexual violence, recruitment of children and several other grave crimes.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid, said the report reveals violations that are “among the most serious crimes of concern”.
The report recommends measures to develop a comprehensive ‘transitional justice’ policy to address human rights violations and prevent their recurrence.
It concludes by describing the commitment by the Maithripala Sirisena government to pursue accountability through a domestic process as “commendable”. But it adds that the “unfortunate reality” is that Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system is not ready yet for the new task.
“First and foremost is the absence of any reliable system for victim and witness protection. Second is the inadequacy of Sri Lanka’s domestic legal framework to deal with international crimes of this magnitude. The third challenge is the degree to which Lanka’s security sector and justice system have been distorted and corrupted by decades of conflict and impunity.”
“Sri Lanka must now move forward to dismantle the repressive structures and institutional cultures that remain deeply entrenched after decades of erosion of human rights. This will not happen overnight, and no one should underestimate the enormity of the task,” said Prince Zeid.
Stressing the need for all-round cooperation, Zeid urged all Lankan communities and sections of society to view the report as “an opportunity to change discourse from one of absolute denial to one of acknowledgment and constructive engagement to bring about change”.
Responding to the UN report on war crimes, the SL government has said that due attention will be given to its contents and recommendations. The Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka at the UN in Geneva told the Office of the UN High Commissioner For Human Rights (OHCHR) on Wednesday, that it recognises that the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) was not a “criminal investigation” but a “human rights investigation” and that the Lankan government and the mechanisms that are to be set up ensure human rights, justice and non-recurrence of abuses, will give “due attention” to the contents of the report and the recommendations therein.
The Mission said that, as per the mandate the Lankan leadership got in the January 8 Presidential election, the government will take all measures to ensure non-recurrence of abuses; and to have dialogues with all stakeholders, including the victims, all political parties, the civil society, the military, the UN and the international community.
It said that the government is committed to putting in place mechanisms to ensure the Right to Know, the Right to Justice, the Right to Reparations and to Non-recurrence of abuses.
Silent on International Court
The Lankan statement did not directly refer to the UN report’s demand for setting up a “hybrid” (a mixed Lankan and International) Special Court to try war crimes cases. Nor did the Ministry challenge the report’s contention that war crimes had been committed.