UN rights chief requests deferral of report on Sri Lanka conflict

Prince ZeidAt the request of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council on 16 February 2015, agreed to temporarily hold off its consideration of a long-awaited report into alleged rights violations during the conflict in Sri Lanka for six months, until September 2015.

Explaining his “difficult decision,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a press release issued by his Office that the deferral of the report was “for one time only,” and guaranteed that the report would be published by September.

His request for deferral was granted by the Council on Monday afternoon.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Monday explained his recommendation to the Human Rights Council to delay the consideration of a long-awaited report into alleged human rights violations during the conflict in Sri Lanka for six months until September 2015.*

The High Commissioner stressed that the deferral of the report was “for one time only,” and guaranteed that the report would be published by September. His request for deferral was granted by the Council on Monday afternoon.

“This has been a difficult decision,” Zeid said. “There are good arguments for sticking to the original timetable, and there are also strong arguments for deferring the report’s consideration a bit longer, given the changing context in Sri Lanka, and the possibility that important new information may emerge which will strengthen the report.”

“In addition, I have received clear commitments from the new Government of Sri Lanka indicating it is prepared to cooperate with my Office on a whole range of important human rights issues – which the previous Government had absolutely refused to do – and I need to engage with them to ensure those commitments translate into reality.”

The High Commissioner noted that the three distinguished experts,** who were appointed by his predecessor Navi Pillay to advise the investigation, had informed him that, in their unanimous view, a one-off temporary deferral would be the best option to allow space for the new Government to show its willingness to cooperate on human rights issues.

“Taking all this into account, I have therefore decided, on balance, to request more time to allow for a stronger and more comprehensive report,” Zeid.

“I am acutely aware that many victims of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, including those who have bravely come forward to provide information to the inquiry team, might see this is as the first step towards shelving, or diluting, a report they have long feared they would never see. I fully understand those fears and deep anxieties, given the history of failed or obstructed domestic human rights inquiries in Sri Lanka, and the importance of this international investigation being carried out by my team at the UN Human Rights Office.”

“There should be no misunderstanding,” the High Commissioner continued. “I give my personal, absolute and unshakable commitment that the report will be published by September. Like my predecessors, I believe that one of the most important duties of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is to act as a strong voice on behalf of victims. I want this report to have the maximum possible impact in ensuring a genuine and credible process of accountability and reconciliation in which the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparations are finally respected.” (OHCHR)

* In March 2014, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) – a 47-member State body – adopted resolution 25/1 entitled ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ which requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights “to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” which examined the last years of the armed conflict. The HRC requested the UN Human Rights Office “to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations, and of the crimes perpetrated, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability,” with assistance from relevant experts. The resolution requested the Office to present a comprehensive report at its 28th session in March 2015.

** The three experts, appointed in June 2014, are: Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, renowned for his international peace work;  Silvia Cartwright, former Governor-General and High Court judge of New Zealand, and judge of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia;  Asma Jahangir, former President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association and of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and previous holder of several Human Rights Council mandates.

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