The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) cautiously welcomes the unanimous adoption of the resolution ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’ (34/L.1) at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). This resolution, in effect, reaffirms the full implementation of the Resolution 30/1 of 2015. The fact that the resolution was sponsored by forty seven countries and twenty seven countries spoke at the Interactive Dialogue on Sri Lanka is reflective of the strong commitment of the international community to peace, accountability, justice and reconciliation for all the peoples of Sri Lanka. We are grateful to every one of these countries, in particular to the main sponsors Unites States, United Kingdom, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and all other countries that worked admirably and consistently in the background to make this outcome possible.
The tone set by the High Commissioner Zeid’s report as well as the statements from several country representatives is unmistakable. Sri Lanka has made some notable progress but, despite these efforts much more work remains to be done. A common thread underpinning most of the country statements was that a comprehensive, time-bound implementation strategy was urgently needed, and that only full implementation of Resolution 30/1 would advance peace, human rights, accountability and reconciliation.
GTF is pleased that Sri Lanka once again co-sponsored the resolution and reiterated to the Council that the Government was ‘determined to stay the course.’ But, for the victims of Sri Lanka’s brutal war, words alone cannot provide relief, and time is long-past for credible actions and concrete outcomes. For the Tamil community, and particularly for the victims, their confidence that Sri Lanka would faithfully honour its international commitments, and that they would receive justice in a reasonable time-frame is fast eroding. It is not just the worryingly slow progress, but more importantly the conflicting narratives from the leaders of the country that dash their hopes. Widespread calls from the Tamil community that no extension be given to Sri Lanka needs to be understood in this context.
GTF strongly feels that Sri Lanka’s top leadership along with the government has to transform its contradictory narrative on accountability to a consistent one, which is neither apologetic nor defensive but principled and forceful that articulates genuine accounting as a fundamental prerequisite to overcome the country’s dreadful past. The government needs to redouble its efforts among the Sinhala people by accurately conveying the beneficial role international community could play in promoting accountability and genuine reconciliation, and that accountability measures will only aim to identify elements responsible for serious crimes, rather than targeting any institution as a whole.
GTF also calls on the government to wholeheartedly embrace the report of the Consultation Task Force and formulate a comprehensive strategy, with a time-line and detailed benchmarks, to address all aspects of the transitional justice mechanism identified in Resolution 30/1. Our considered view is that this should incorporate confidence-building measures that include immediate land and prisoner release and urgent actions on missing persons, and a credible judicial mechanism that should include a special counsel, foreign judges and defence lawyers, and authorised prosecutors and investigators.
The unfortunate fact is that the victims and their families from the Tamil community historically have very little faith in the government, and any belief that justice is possible is entirely due to the assurance of international involvement. Several resolutions passed at the UNHRC and the key roles played by major international powers have undoubtedly helped build their trust in the impartiality of the UNHRC processes, and has been very important in preventing them from descend into a state of despair. Therefore, it is in the interest, not just of the Tamil community but of all communities, that such trust in the international system is strengthened through the concerted actions of the international community by ensuring that Sri Lanka faithfully meets all its commitments.
To quote High Commissioner Zeid, “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, never to recur.” GTF calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to do just that by publicising and acting on a comprehensive reform and transitional justice plan, and the international community to ensure that the set path towards transitional justice remains on track.
On our part, the GTF would like to reaffirm its commitment to assist such a process that will lead to true accountability and a sense of closure to the trauma experienced by the surviving victims from all communities. (GTF)