Sri Lanka: Credibility of ‘domestic inquiry’ into war crimes questioned

A leading international human rights watchdog has cast doubt over the credibility of Sri Lanka’s proposed domestic probe into alleged war crimes committed at the end the civil war in 2009. Responding to a statement by the country’s justice minister that Sri Lanka would establish a domestic mechanism ‘acceptable to the international community,’ Human Rights Watch (HRW) emphasised the need of international involvement as an essential requirement to deliver justice.

“This government has repeatedly said that it is committed to justice. For that, there will be need for impartial, international participation,” HRW South Asia Director, Meenakshi Ganguly told JDS. In a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the 15th of June HRW called upon Sri Lanka to ensure any mechanism to be international. As a ‘minimum measure’. HRW proposed to include a majority of international judges or prosecutors to establish a transparent justice and accountability process.

Domestic inquiry

Responding to the HRW request made at the UNHRC in Geneva, Justice Minister Wijayadasa Rajapaksha has said that Sri Lanka will go ahead with a domestic inquiry that would have a ‘credible mechanism acceptable to the international community’. Sri Lanka has also “sought the advice of eminent persons like Sir Desmond De Silva of UK who has a thorough knowledge on International Humanitarian Law,” Minister Rajapaksha has told the Daily Mirror in Colombo.

“Sri Lanka has unfortunately, a history of failed commissions through the decades of conflict,” Meenakshi Ganguly told JDS. “Even families of those that disappeared during the days of the JVP violence are yet to know what happened to their loved ones,” she recalled.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has told Sri Lankan authorities of the need for ‘transparent and inclusive processes to develop credible mechanisms for accountability and reconciliation’. In his opening statement to the 29th session of the Human Rights Council, Commissioner Al Hussein expressing an apparent preference for a Sri Lankan ‘mechanism’ said, “I encourage the Government to consult broadly with all political parties, civil society, and above all victims and their families, to ensure full national support and ownership of these processes.”

QC Silva

Queen’s Counsel Desmond De Silva, whose advice has been sought by the present Sri Lankan government led by Maithripala Sirisena, was appointed by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to head an International Advisory Council to the Presidential Commission to Investigate Complaints Regarding Missing Persons. With the assistance of Sir Geoffrey Nice QC and Professor David Crane from the USA, QC Silva cleared the Sri Lankan armed forces of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the last phase of its war against Tamil Tigers.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.