One of the three international experts appointed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to lead the international inquiry into mass atrocities in Sri Lanka, Asma Jahangir, expressed confidence in the inquiry’s ability to deliver answers despite the Sri Lankan government’s persistent refusal to cooperate, in an interview with BBC Sandeshaya.
Highlighting her previous experience in conducting UN inquiries when governments refused to cooperate, Ms Jahangir said “we have provided very independent and reliable reports, and these have been accepted too”.
A lawyer from Pakistan, Ms Jahangir, is also a former President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association and of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, as well as the previous holder of several Human Rights Council mandates and member of a recent fact-finding body into Israeli settlements.
“It will be a very difficult task for any government to stop people from contacting investigators,” she said, warning the Sri Lankan government that any attempts to prevent people from testifying at the inquiry would only be detrimental to them.
“People will always find a way to collaborate with such inquiries,” she added.
The inquiry will begin during the first or second week of August.
The full interview by BBC is translated below:
BBC: How do you explain the aim and purpose of the inquiry
Asma Jahangir: Our role is within our mandate. We are basically supposed to be making recommendations to the High Commissioner. We will ensure that the inquiry will be independent and that human rights violations by all sides will be looked in an unbiased manner.
BBC: The Sri Lankan government has said that it will not cooperate with your inquiry. If it does not issue you a visa and prevents people from being able to contact you, how will you be able to conduct the inquiry?
Asma Jahangir: There have been international inquiries earlier also where governments have not cooperated. Those inquiries did not end with that. People will always find a way to collaborate with such inquiries. It will be a very difficult task for any government to stop people from contacting investigators. If the government thinks of attempting to arbitrarily prevent people it will only be detrimental to the government. At the same time, as this inquiry looks at violations committed by ‘all parties’ this inquiry is important for the government side too.
BBC: Are you confident you can still a find a method through which to contact the people, even if the government of Sri Lanka does not provide you a visa?
Asma Jahangir: This is not the first UN inquiry that I am on. I have participated in many other inquiries. I have participated in many inquiries in which governments have not cooperated. We have provided very independent and reliable reports, and these have been accepted too. During those instances people always found a way on their own, to get in contact with us.
BBC: You only have a short period of time to complete your investigation. Is it possible to complete your work during this time frame?
Asma Jahangir: We have to report in March to the Human Rights Council. We now have enough experts to confirm that the information we receive from both sides is reliable and verified, and that we have enough contacts. We will try our utmost. If we do not get all the information, we will state so in our March report.
BBC: During your inquiry with whom will you attempt to speak to?
Asma Jahangir: We always talk to victims. That is absolutely essential. We will also speak to the persons who took the decisions during relevant times and try to understand their point of view. Some may not like to speak to us, but there will also be those who will be able to speak to us. From our experience sometimes some will get into contact with in secret. We will need to protect their confidentiality. If we are allowed to travel to Sri Lanka we will speak to the police. Also we will speak to a majority of the civil society including NGOs, media, etc.
BBC: Will you attempt to bring people out of Sri Lanka to provide statements to the inquiry?
Asma Jahangir: Sometimes we have done that and they have come and talked to us. We have brought them to neighbouring states or even to Geneva to get statements. If the statements are anonymous their reliability and truthfulness will be investigated.
BBC: The government of Sri Lanka says this is a one sided inquiry, how will you prove that it is an unbiased one?
Asma Jahangir: I think that their concern is ill-founded. I think that none of the three people on this Commission have any biases. We will conduct this investigation with open minds. At the same time we understand the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens. We also must bear in mind that when a government acts it must act in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law. I know that the other two colleagues due to work with me are independent and fair persons. We have no preconceived notions.