If handled well, Sri Lanka has the potential to constitute an example for the region how sustainable peace ought to be achieved

Speaking at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Kate Gilmore, the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights told the UN Human Rights Council today that OHCHR welcomes the Government’s constructive engagement with OHCHR and the human rights mechanisms, including its cooperation with visits of this Council’s Special Rapporteurs on human rights and terrorism; on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.However she said  that OHCHR must report slow progress in establishing transitional justice mechanisms in Sri Lanka.

Gilmore said the High Commissioner strongly advises that the Council continue to focus its attention on the human rights of the people of Sri Lanka and in particular on the processes in place for accountability and reconciliation,

Meanwhile, addressing the Council,  the Special Rapporteur On The Promotion Of Truth, Justice, Reparation And Guarantees Of Non-Recurrence Mr. Pablo de Greiff said that urgent issues that needed immediate attention w: clarifying the fate of the disappeared and missing; addressing land issues; refraining from arbitrary detentions, particularly on the basis of outdated anti-terrorist legislation followed by protracted trials lasting years; and putting an end to continuing forms of harassment, violence and unjustified surveillance of civil society and victims. Most of these issues are still not fully resolved.

Pablo de Greiff went on to state that  the country needs decisive and courageous action: it needs a constitution which makes everyone feel that their equal rights are acknowledged and that finds a way to express their fundamental values and interests; it needs a legal framework, which guarantees that no one is above the law; it needs to break a long history of impunity, to have perpetrators brought to truly independent and fair trials; it needs robust systems to tackle and prevent corruption; it needs a security sector mindful of the necessity to reform and come to grips with past violations; it needs an education system that favours critical reflection about the past and enables children of different communities to approach each other and learn together; it needs to ensure that the divide not only between communities, but also between the affluent and those living in conditions of poverty and marginalization is being closed.

If handled well, the case of Sri Lanka has the potential to constitute an example for the region and for the world of how a sustainable peace ought to be achieved de Greiff said.


Read Complete Statements Below:


Addresses by Ms. Kate GilmoreUnited Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights 

Geneva, 21 and 22 March 2018

Moving now to our written update on progress in promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka (A/HRC/37/23) between March 2017 and January 2018.

We welcome the Government’s constructive engagement with OHCHR and the human rights mechanisms, including its cooperation with visits of this Council’s Special Rapporteurs on human rights and terrorism; on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

We also welcome Sri Lanka’s accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the adoption of the National Human Rights Action Plan.

Yet, it is with much regret that we must report slow progress in establishing transitional justice mechanisms.  In the absence of concrete results or publicly available drafts of legislation, it seems doubtful that the transitional justice agenda committed to by the Government under this Council’s resolution 30/1 could be fully implemented before our next report in March 2019.

We also regret that the commissioners of the Office of Missing Persons were only recently appointed, 20 months after the adoption of the legislation.

Further there has been insufficient progress in returning land occupied by the military. Trust will not be rebuilt if land grabbing continues, nor without independent mechanisms established to determine fair compensations for land reserved for security reasons.

Furthermore, the Authorities have yet to demonstrate with the willingness or the capacity to address impunity for gross violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law. This strengthens the argument for the establishment of a specialized court to deal with serious crimes, supported by international practitioners. In the absence of such a mechanism, we call on Member States to exercise universal jurisdiction.

We are also seriously concerned about multiple incidents of inter-communal violence, attacks and hate speech against minorities observed last year – a worry further exacerbated by recent developments that have occurred since the drafting of the report, including violence against Muslims in Kandy district that led to the proclamation of state of emergency for 12 days.  Allegations of continuing use of torture and continued reports of harassment or surveillance of human rights defenders are more than worrying.

In light of the gravity of the above matters and given the import role that this Council has played to date, the High Commissioner strongly advises that this Council continue to focus its attention  on the human rights of the people of Sri Lanka and in particular on the processes in place for accountability and reconciliation.

Excellencies,

Over several years now, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Mr Pablo de Greiff has engaged closely with Sri Lanka. As he will soon conclude his mandate, I understand you next will have the benefit of his insights on these important matters and we are very grateful for his leadership in this regard.

This concludes my introduction of country reports and updates under item 2.

Thank you.


Contribution by Mr. Pablo de Greiff

SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE PROMOTION OF TRUTH, JUSTICE, REPARATION AND GUARANTEES OF NON-RECURRENCE  

37th session of the Human Rights Council

Agenda Item 2


I am honoured to contribute to this dialogue on Sri Lanka, with the agreement of the Government.

Since early 2015, I have had a continuous and thorough engagement with Sri Lanka in the form of four advisory visits, which culminated at the end of last year with a fifth and fully-fledged country visit, the report of which will be presented in September. I thank the Government of Sri Lanka, and civil society, particularly victims and their families, for their openness, courage and confidence to discuss and share their concerns with me.

I will not repeat the various issues raised in my statement at the end of my country visit in November 2017, which you will find in the annex to this contribution.

Rather, I would like to take the occasion to stress – yet again – the urgency of the matter in light of the most recent violent attacks against members of the Muslim community just two weeks ago.

In early 2015 (see annex 2), I highlighted urgent issues that needed immediate attention: clarifying the fate of the disappeared and missing; addressing land issues; refraining from arbitrary detentions, particularly on the basis of outdated antiterrorist legislation followed by protracted trials lasting years; and putting an end to continuing forms of harassment, violence and unjustified surveillance of civil society and victims. Most of these issues are still not fully resolved.

I also argued back in 2015 and have been advocating since then for the planning and adoption of a comprehensive transitional justice policy, including its four main pillars, namely truth, criminal justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence, just as Sri Lanka committed itself to doing in, among other instruments, Human Rights Council resolution 30/1.

The appointment of the Commissioners for the Office of Missing Persons is a sign of hope that, while coming with questionable delay, is encouraging. I call on all actors to invest in the Office, allow it to work in an effective and independent manner, with sufficient financial and human resources, the participation of victims and civil society, and effective protection systems and support services for victims and witnesses.

Everyone knows, however, that the Office of Missing Persons is only a beginning.  Sri Lanka is a country in which all communities have victims, generated by cycles of violence that recur approximately every ten years, confirming what we know well from other countries, namely, that unredressed violations significantly increase the likelihood of repeated violence.  In a country in which transitional justice has become politicized, it is important to recall that in addition to the intercommunal violence during the conflict, which ended now almost ten years ago, there are plenty of examples of intra­communal violence, such as the insurrection of 1971, the 1987-89 violence, and LTTE violence against members of the Tamil community.  All these victims have a right to truth, justice and reparations.  And, of course, all of them, the whole society, has a right to non-recurrence, for which an effective end to impunity, regardless of the identity of the victims or the perpetrators, is necessary.

Given this history, of which recent events give us some reminders, I would ask the country’s leadership, political both in Government and the opposition, religious, military, and others, if in 3 months, or 2 years, or 7 years’ time, a mother of your community asks you: “What did you do to prevent the disappearance, killing or radicalization of my son? What will you tell her? That you did not know that this could happen – yet – again?”

Have the human costs of the various cycles of violence not been sufficient to critically reflect upon and trigger determined action, to redress, the past and prevent yet another cycle of violence?

In early 2015, I stressed that, if handled well, the case of Sri Lanka has the potential to constitute an example for the region and for the world of how a sustainable peace ought to be achieved.

But the country needs decisive and courageous action: it needs a constitution which makes everyone feel that their equal rights are acknowledged and that finds a way to express their fundamental values and interests; it needs a legal framework, which guarantees that no one is above the law; it needs to break a long history of impunity, to have perpetrators brought to truly independent and fair trials; it needs robust systems to tackle and prevent corruption; it needs a security sector mindful of the necessity to reform and come to grips with past violations; it needs an education system that favours critical reflection about the past and enables children of different communities to approach each other and learn together; it needs to ensure that the divide not only between communities, but also between the affluent and those living in conditions of poverty and marginalization is being closed.

History, however, need not be fate.  The cycles of violence can indeed be broken.  Transitional justice can make a significant contribution to the future.  Do not wait any longer: own the project forcefully and proudly, and accelerate the pace of its implementation.

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