The ICJ today welcomed the adoption by the UN Human Rights Council of a further resolution on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.
The resolution, co-sponsored for the first time by the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), is a historic step towards post-war justice, accountability and reconciliation.
The ICJ at the same time called on the GOSL to take genuine and prompt steps to deliver on the commitments and obligations reflected in the resolution, which was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council by consensus.
“Today’s resolution is a significant step towards achieving justice, accountability and reconciliation for the victims of Sri Lanka’s long and bloody civil war,” said Nikhil Narayan, ICJ’s senior legal adviser for South Asia.
“The shift in posture of the Sri Lankan Government in co-sponsoring the resolution marks a further welcome break from the Rajapakse regime. The Government must now demonstrate its political will by immediately launching concrete steps towards a genuine process of truth-seeking, justice and reconciliation,” he added.
The consensus resolution reflects certain key recommendations contained in the Report of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) summarizing findings of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), the ICJ notes.
The investigation and report was mandated by an earlier UN resolution on Sri Lanka, adopted in March 2014 over the strong objections of the Rajapakse government.
The report documents in vivid detail alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and humanitarian law amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both sides during the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, including extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, forced recruitment, including of children, and sexual violence.
One of the most important recommendations of the High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an accountability process through a special judicial mechanism and prosecutor’s office that involves the full participation of international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators.
Responding in part to this call, the resolution affirms the importance of participation of foreign judges, defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators in an independent and impartial judicial mechanism to hold individuals accountable for human rights and humanitarian law violations, including those documented in the report.
The resolution also mandates further monitoring and reporting back to the Council on implementation of the accountability and other measures.
“The international community, through the UN Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Procedures, and other UN member states, must as the High Commissioner himself recommended, remain engaged through continued and sustained monitoring, assistance, support and fully integrated involvement of the international community to ensure full implementation of the resolution,” said Narayan.
The ICJ has worked with judiciaries, governments, civil society and victims around the world for decades to address impunity and victims’ right to remedy for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including in situations of transition.
In Sri Lanka, the ICJ has been documenting and reporting on a gradual erosion of judicial independence, impartiality and integrity under successive governments, and the resulting culture of impunity, for over thirty years.
The ICJ considers the International Criminal Court (ICC) to be the preferred mechanism for individual accountability where national authorities and courts lack the capacity or the willingness to genuinely investigate and prosecute all war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the absence of an ICC process, the ICJ’s extensive experience in Sri Lanka and elsewhere demonstrates that any credible and effective accountability process in Sri Lanka must involve, at a minimum, a majority of international judges, prosecutors and investigators.
The ICJ therefore advocated for and welcomed the resolution’s recognition of the need for international participation.
Since January 2015, when a new president was elected, the GOSL has undertaken a number of important steps to reverse the slide towards authoritarianism and the erosion of the rule of law and the culture of impunity experienced under the Rajapakse government, and restore democratic governance and build confidence towards reconciliation among Sri Lanka’s ethnic minorities, including by restoring the Constitutional Council through the passage of the 19th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and returning some tracts of military-occupied lands in the North and East.
However, after decades of war and distrust, and a history of promises undelivered, much work remains to be done to deliver justice to victims and their families, and to rebuild trust and confidence among Sri Lanka’s fractured ethnic minorities. Continued and sustained monitoring and engagement by the international community in ensuring the progress of the implementation of this resolution will be essential.
Equally importantly, today’s consensus resolution also reaffirmed the OHCHR’s recommendations on: the mandate and resources of the accountability mechanisms; legislating retroactive recognition of international crimes under national law; justice and security sector reform; repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA); strengthening the Witness and Victim Protection Act; accession to the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (CED), the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Convention, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; and continued monitoring of and technical support for implementation through the OHCHR and by the Council.
Nikhil Narayan, ICJ’s senior legal adviser for South Asia; t: +41 79 730 09 27; e: nikhil.narayan(a)icj.org