Human rights groups, have in a letter to Ambassadors of the UN Human Rights Council, urged them to maintain the fullest scrutiny of Sri Lanka on questions of justice and accountability. In the letter, released by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, the human rights groups noted that although it is to be acknowledged that since January Sri Lanka’s government has induced some positive change in easing the abusive human rights climate of the previous Presidency, it must also be recognised that many challenges still remain unaddressed.
In the hurry to acknowledge changes, member states of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN as a whole should not let go of the many fundamental challenges that remain. The human rights groups said the government in Sri Lanka should meet three key tests before September 2015 in demonstrating genuine willingness towards establishing a credible and transparent justice and accountability process.
This includes ensuring that any mechanism created to address wartime abuses is defined through genuine consultations with those affected by violations; one that has their confidence and not one imposed on them from the above. To this end the government should be guided by the advice of UN experts that victims be consulted and involved, and it should announce and implement a convincing framework for such a credible process, within a clear timeframe. Given the track record of past domestic inquiries, any mechanism needs to be international, or at a minimum one with a majority of international judges and prosecutors, in order to guarantee its independence and give greater security to those who participate in it.
The letter said the government must also keep its promise to the UN and fully cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and allow it full access to any new or additional information it may require.
It went on to state that “recent actions by the government raise serious concerns about its intentions towards genuine justice and accountability,” citing the promotion of accused war criminal Major General Jagath Dias to Chief of Staff of Sri Lanka’s army.
“Moreover, members of both the Rajapaksa and Sirisena Presidencies, as well as leading members of the major political parties currently contesting Parliamentary elections, were in positions of authority during significant periods of the armed conflict and may have personal vested interests in deflecting accountability concerns,” the letter added.
The letter was endorsed by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Human Rights Law Centre, International Commission of Jurists, International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, International Service for Human Rights and Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.