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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 727

Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: The sting is in the tail

By a Special Correspondent
Colombo, 14 February (Asiantribune.com)

The High Commissioner noted the views expressed by many stakeholders in Sri Lanka, including prominent community leaders, that the attention paid by the Human Rights Council to issues of accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka had helped to create space for debate, and catalyzed positive steps forward, however limited at this stage.

The High Commissioner encourages the Council to continue its engagement and build on this momentum. In this regard, she reaffirms her long-standing call for an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, which could also monitor any domestic accountability process - Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The report issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillai, gives a mixed report card to Sri Lanka on human rights, and it also sends mixed signals. On the one hand, it acknowledges the post conflict advances made by Sri Lanka in some areas, “The Government has made significant progress in rebuilding infrastructure; and while the majority of internally displaced persons have been resettled”, while it notes that “considerable work lies ahead in the areas of justice, reconciliation and resumption of livelihoods. To date, the Government has made commitments on only selected recommendations of the Commission, and has not adequately engaged civil society in support of a more consultative and inclusive reconciliation process”.

The mixed signal that is being sent maybe summarized by the following statement “The High Commissioner noted the views expressed by many stakeholders in Sri Lanka, including prominent community leaders, that the attention paid by the Human Rights Council to issues of accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka had helped to create space for debate, and catalyzed positive steps forward, however limited at this stage. The High Commissioner encourages the Council to continue its engagement and build on this momentum. In this regard, she reaffirms her long-standing call for an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, which could also monitor any domestic accountability process”.

Here, on the one hand the report acknowledges that its intervention as well as from prominent community leaders have “helped to create space for debate, and catalyzed positive steps forward, however limited at this stage”, and then it ends with a statement from the High commissioner that “she reaffirms her long-standing call for an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, which could also monitor any domestic accountability process”.

Many Sri Lankans, including those not enamored by some aspects of the current administrations governance model, are of the belief that the High Commissioners sole aim is to launch an international investigation in spite of the acknowledgement that some progress, however limited, has been made through the intervention of the Council.

These Sri Lankans are in agreement with the Council that more has to be done in regard to post conflict human rights issues and matters associated with reconciliation. They too are unhappy that the “white van” syndrome of kidnapping and disappearances still occurs while to the best of one’s knowledge, no one has been apprehended and convicted to date for these criminal acts.

They are also not happy that justice at times has shown selectivity, and what is just for one person has not necessarily been the same for another depending on who you are and who you know. They are also unhappy about rumors that seem to be abundant that corruption is rampant at the highest levels with no accountability required from some in privileged positions.

To compound matters, the recent impeachment of the Chief Justice has left many wondering what their fate would be if they fall foul of the centers of power if none other than the Chief Justice of the country had not been afforded a fair hearing prior to her “hanging”.

These Sri Lankans however would not countenance an international investigation into the domestic affairs of the country, especially when there is an acknowledgement from the very same international body that its involvement had helped to create space for debate, and catalyzed positive steps forward, however limited at this stage”.

It is the view of these Sri Lankans that the Council and other international bodies that are clamoring for justice, a better human rights record and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, should do so through direct engagement and co-operation, rather than by waving a red rag to a bull and pushing for an international investigation.

Ms Pillai must know that whatever ‘limited” progress that has been achieved, has been possible through engagement and not through any form of coercion by international bodies or any other nation. It is well for her to remember that this is the only way further progress can be made, and should be made as there is decidedly a need to make more progress.

The summary of the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on advice and technical assistance for the Government of Sri Lanka on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka, says “the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission made significant and far reaching recommendations towards reconciliation and strengthening the rule of law in Sri Lanka, despite its limitations. In order to define areas of possible advice and assistance by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the special procedures pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 19/2, the present report examines the recommendations of the Commission and the plans of the Government of Sri Lanka to implement them, and to address alleged violations of international law. To date, the Government has made commitments on only selected recommendations of the Commission, and has not adequately engaged civil society in support of a more consultative and inclusive reconciliation process. The Government has made significant progress in rebuilding infrastructure; and while the majority of internally displaced persons have been resettled, considerable work lies ahead in the areas of justice, reconciliation and resumption of livelihoods. The steps taken to investigate further allegations of serious violations of human rights have also been inconclusive, and lack the independence and impartiality required to inspire confidence. Meanwhile, continuing reports of extrajudicial killings, abductions and enforced disappearance in the past year highlight the urgency of action to combat impunity. It is against this background that possible areas of technical assistance are identified, and recommendations are made.

In its conclusion and recommendations, the following is stated “Achieving reconciliation following decades of violence and mistrust is challenging in any context, but is only possible through a genuine, consultative and inclusive process that addresses the grievances of all those affected by the conflict, in an environment where the rule of law and human rights for all are respected. While the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission had some limitations, it nonetheless made significant and far-reaching recommendations for reconciliation and strengthening the rule of law. This was widely heralded by prominent community figures, religious leaders and civil society in Sri Lanka eager to join hands in a genuinely consultative and inclusive reconciliation process. The Government therefore has a unique opportunity to build upon the Commission’s work and findings to move towards a more all-encompassing and comprehensive policy on accountability and reconciliation. Unfortunately, however, the Government has made commitments to only some of the Commission’s recommendations, and has not adequately engaged civil society to support this process. The steps taken by the Government to investigate allegations of serious violations of human rights further have also been inconclusive, and lack the independence and impartiality required to inspire confidence.

The High Commissioner recommends that the Government of Sri Lanka:

(a) Give positive consideration to the offers of assistance made in her letter dated 26 November 2012, in particular expertise in:

(i) The establishment of a truth-seeking mechanism as an integral part of a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to transitional justice;

(ii) Criminal and forensic investigations to review relevant case files and advise on additional lines of inquiry to resolve outstanding cases in accordance with international standards;

(iii) Drafting laws dealing with witness and victim protection, the right to information, the criminalization of enforced disappearances and the revision of existing laws to bring them into line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;

(iv) Strengthening and ensuring the independence of national institutions;

(v) The development of a national reparations policy in line with international standards;

(b) Invite special procedures mandate holders with outstanding requests to make country visits, particularly those who have offered assistance pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 19/2;

(c) Hold public and inclusive consultations on the national plan of action for implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission with a view to revising and expanding its scope and clarifying commitments and responsibilities;

(d) Revisit and implement the Commission’s recommendation on appointing a special commissioner of investigation into disappearances and extend tracing programs to include all missing persons;

(e) Open proceedings of military courts of inquiry and future trials of LTTE detainees to independent observers to increase public confidence, and allow proceedings to be evaluated in line with international standards;

(f) Publish the final report of the presidential commission of inquiry 2006 to allow the evidence gathered to be evaluated and accept international assistance to resolve outstanding cases;

(g) Take further steps in demilitarization and devolution to involve minority communities fully in decision-making processes;

(h) Engage civil society and minority community representatives in dialogue on appropriate forms of commemoration and memorialization that will advance inclusion and reconciliation.

The recommendations made in the report are one’s that the Sri Lankan government should accept as they are sound and they are in the interest of all Sri Lankans. Unfortunately, Ms Pillai has muddied the waters by what readers believe is the sting in the tail; her concluding statement that there should be an international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. This will be a setback for Sri Lankans who believe the government has done a lot in the area of reconstruction (as admitted by the Council) although there is more to be done in the area of reconciliation, human rights, the rule of law and good governance.

All Sri Lankans also realize that 30 years of terrorism and war, and the havoc it created to the social fabric of Sri Lanka cannot be reconstructed in 4 years. They also accept that innocent people die when caught in a cross fire, and more so when the battle is between one side that does their best to abide by the rules of war and the other which does not believe in any kind of rule accept the dictates of one man who does not attach any value to the life of human beings.

It will be set back as the focus of the report and its useful recommendations will be diluted elsewhere into battling Ms Pillai’s statement rather than findings ways and means of acting on the recommendations.

In the end, whether it is this report and its recommendations, or the LLRC report and its recommendations, they are all for the benefit of Sri Lanka and they need to be acted upon by Sri Lankans, in their own way, in their own time. If any pressure is to be exerted on the government to do more, it should be done by Sri Lankans and not by any international body or any other country.

In this context, considering that some progress has been made by Sri Lanka, all international bodies should assist Sri Lankan institutions to advance the recommendations contained in both reports. Threats of UN resolutions, calling for international investigations will all be counterproductive as Sri Lanka’s rightful pride and their right to manage these issues will only harden their attitude towards individuals and institutions that are trying to internationalise a national issue.

-Asian Tribune-

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