The UNHRC while expressing its dissatisfaction with regard to the slow pace of investigations pertaining to the establishing of comprehensive transitional justice mechanisms and said the government should allocate a specific time frame for the prosecution of all parties with war crimes charges. This was stated when the progress report between October 2015 to January 2017, on the Geneva recommendations was released recently.
Investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity or gross human rights violations and abuses, such as torture, enforced disappearance and rape and prosecute those found guilty under international law, the UN High Commissioner urged member countries.
Sexual harassment and torture:
In his report the UN High Commissioner pointed out that sexual harassment and torture is still being practiced by the government forces and police and said that these atrocities should be investigated without delay and urged the Sri Lankan Government to punish those found guilty of such crimes.
He pointed out that the according to the recommendations of October 2015, the Sri Lankan Government should have formulated the required laws over the past 15 months for meting out punishment to those found guilty of such crimes.
The 18 page report states that the UNHR office has already passed on the reliable information given by a human rights organisation, pertaining to the white van abductions and sexual violations and harassment to the Sri Lankan Government.
Citing information on five military personnel, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) last month urged the UN to hand over the information to the Sri Lankan Government and interdict the officers accused of these crimes.
The UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated that the government’s stance to protect the perpetrators and allowing them to go free without being held accountable is a grave issue.
Peace Keeping Forces:
The UN also called for the Sri Lankan Government to follow a comprehensive vetting process to ensure that “no scope exists for retention in or recruitment into the security forces of anyone credibly implicated through a fair administrative process in serious crimes involving human rights violations or abuses or violations of international humanitarian law, pointing out that it is
imperative that the Government establish an appropriate vetting procedure – with an
independent, civilian human rights component – in advance of any deployment of military
and police personnel to a United Nations mission.
Around 114 soldiers deployed for peace keeping operations in Haiti were sent back in November 2007 accused of sexual crimes against girls and women. The UN urged the Sri Lankan Government to take legal action against these perpetrators and in future subject the commanding officers of these battalions and all soldiers to a complete vetting procedure.
Sri Lanka Human Rights Council:
In a press briefing held in Geneva, UNHRC Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said that the SL Human Rights Council too had acknowledged that harassment was widespread in Sri Lanka.
“The report clearly states that grave human rights violations are still taking place in the country and human rights activists and those subjected to these violations are still being harassed or intimidated,” she added.
The UN High Commissioner urged all member countries to refrain from sending back refugees who have fled Sri Lanka due to these harassments and violations of their basic rights, until the country rectified such crimes and creates a conducive environment for them to return.
The report called on the Government to invite the UN human rights office to establish a presence in Sri Lanka.
Hybrid Court and Politics:
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein reiterated the importance of establishing a hybrid court inclusive of international judges.
The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanism (CTF) report was commended by the High Commissioner and urged the government to accept it.
However, the government stated that Sri Lanka is not committed to accept the CTF report.
On the same day that the UNHRC report was published, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe addressing the Law week inauguration ceremony said, it was not possible to establish a hybrid court in the country.
He expressed doubt whether a two thirds majority in parliament could be obtained and if now if we would have to go for a new constitution and highlighted the need to find an alternative.
However, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera in Geneva, did not dismiss the possibility of establishing a hybrid court.
He noted that party politics, including the balancing of power between the different constituencies of the coalition has resulted in the government making differing statements on transitional justice, pointing out that it has led to a political split.
Hence the report makes a number of concrete recommendations, including calling on the Government to embrace the report of the Consultation Task Force, to formulate a communications campaign to inform the public about details of the reconciliation agenda, to invite the UN human rights office to establish a presence in Sri Lanka, to give the highest priority to the restitution of all private land that has been occupied by the military, and to adopt legislation establishing a hybrid court.
The UN Human Rights Commissioner said unlike the transitional justice process, the government has made significant progress in the area of Constitutional reforms.
However, he pointed out that independence of the judiciary and protection of human rights are vital components that need to be included in the constitution.
“This critical opportunity in Sri Lankan history cannot be missed. I urge the Government and people of Sri Lanka to prioritize justice alongside reconciliation to ensure that the horrors of the past are firmly dealt with and never recur,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein urged the SL government.