The High Commissioner’s investigative report on Sri Lanka marks a significant step towards justice and accountability for the victims of international crimes and the family members of Sri Lanka’s dead and “disappeared.” The international investigative team extensively documented alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Now the government of Sri Lanka and the international community need to engage credibly, promptly and transparently to see these recommendations implemented. The Sri Lankan government, having asked for trust, needs to seize on this opportunity to deliver meaningful and expeditious justice and other reforms.
The Sri Lankan government has accepted many recommendations to improve the human rights situation, including a repeal of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and reforms to the Witness and Victim Protection Law, both long called for by victims’ rights groups. The government has also agreed to accelerate the return of lands confiscated by the security forces; to end the divisive military involvement in civilian activities in the country’s north and east; to investigate allegations of attacks on civil society, media, and religious minorities; and to work toward devolution of authority from the center in line with the 13th amendment to the constitution.
Among the report’s concrete recommendations is the establishment of a special court “integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators” with an independent Sri Lankan investigative and prosecuting body. The endorsement in the resolution under consideration of a judicial mechanism with international participation is an important recognition of the need for an international role to ensure justice for victims. This participation must be meaningful, not tokenism or a façade.
Sri Lanka’s government, through its co sponsorship of the resolution, is making important promises to all the victims of Sri Lanka’s long civil war. However, effective foreign participation and international engagement will be needed to build trust and confidence in the process, which is necessary for a successful outcome.
We urge the government of Sri Lanka to implement the important investigative report recommendation to support the establishment of a dedicated OHCHR office in the country, and we would encourage the High Commissioner to keep the Council regularly updated on developments, through formal and informal briefings.
The victims of the conflict have waited years and in some cases decades for justice. Now responsibility rests with the government of Sri Lanka, working together with stakeholders including civil society, the OHCHR, and the Human Rights Council, to finally make that possible. We will all be watching closely. (HRW)