Zeid calls for tougher international action on Sri Lanka war crimes

Noticeably frustrated by Sri Lanka’s inaction on delivering justice to victims of a war concluded nine years ago, the UN human rights chief has called upon international powers to take a tougher stance.

Releasing a special report on the country’s human rights record during the last ten months, which highlight the government’s failure to address violations, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights requested member states to “explore other avenues, including the application of universal jurisdiction, that could foster accountability”.

“The authorities have not yet demonstrated the capacity or willingness to address impunity for gross violations and abuses of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law,” said Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein in his report to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Referring to legal action taken against former Army Commander Jagath Jayasuriya in Brazil the high commissioner has urged Member States “to exercise universal jurisdiction when required” when similar cases emerge in the absence of a credible accountability mechanism trusted by victims.

The Council is convening in Geneva for its thirty-seventh session from 26 February to 23 March 2018.

Fruitless extension

In March 2017 UNHRC granted Sri Lanka two more years to implement its commitments to implement a comprehensive transitional justice agenda that would include the establishment of an accountability mechanism, truth-seeking, reparation programmes and institutional reforms.

Several local and international rights activists including the main opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) backed the move despite opposition by victims.

“A comprehensive transitional justice strategy, including a clearly defined timeline for implementation, has yet to be made publicly available and consulted,” says the report by the High Commissioner.

“The report of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms, one of the few positive elements highlighted in the previous reports of the High Commissioner, has not yet been endorsed or officially reviewed by the Government or the Parliament. It is of concern that the implementation of these important commitments remains pending.”

Based on an island wide public consultation, the CTF report recommends the inclusion of foreign judges in a future transitional justice mechanism.

It had been rejected by the government as well as the head of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge.

Observing that several high profile cases in the Sri Lankan courts dealing with human rights violations had failed to show major progress, High Commissioner Zeid remained convinced that it “strengthens the argument for the establishment of a specialized court to deal with the most serious crimes committed by State actors in the context of conflict, including gross violations of human rights and other crimes under international criminal and humanitarian law.”

Double standards

Senior police officials speaking to JDS earlier had revealed that President Maitripala Sirisena himself is blocking the progress of disappearance cases where the accused are military personnel.

The UN human rights chief has slammed the Sri Lanka justice system as one with “double standards” when it comes to dealing with state or military officials.

“An overall trait of the Sri Lankan justice system is the perceived double standards in the administration of justice with regard to treatment of State officials or security personnel accused in criminal proceedings,” says the report to the 37th session of the UNHRC.

Expressing deep concern over serious allegations of ongoing torture, the report says that the high commissioner’s office is exploring options for how best to pursue further investigations.

  Last November, Associated Press exposed damning evidence of alleged rape and torture by Sri Lankan government in 2016 and 2017, based on investigations by the Johannesburg based  International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP).

President Maithripala Sirisena has condemned those who provide information to the UN on human rights violations as "Tamil Tiger supporters".