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Former US ambassador calls for 'time frame and benchmarks' on accountability in Sri Lanka

Stephen Rapp, former United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice, called for a clear "time frame and benchmarks" for Sri Lanka to implement its "commitments to accountability" in a press release issued this week.

From discussions this week in Geneva it was clear that there is a consensus among Member States in favor of reaffirming the mandate for full compliance with the transitional justice provisions of Resolution 30/1 while providing Sri Lanka with more time to achieve compliance,” said Mr Rapp. “I therefore urge that Member States in the debate scheduled in the UNHRC for 22 March set forth their clear expectations of what needs to be done to keep faith with international partners, as well as the victims and survivors of serious human rights violations.”

He went on to outline three expectations:

1. The announcement by the Government of Sri Lanka of a specific time frame and benchmarks for implementing its commitments to accountability;

2. The immediate establishment of a special prosecutor’s office to begin gathering evidence and building cases that would be presented to the special court when it later begins operations. This will prevent the loss of evidence and testimony and will demonstrate to victims and survivors that the day of justice will arrive. This office should be independent of the Attorney General and include international lawyers, investigators and other staff as promised by the Government’s commitment under Resolution 30/1;

3. Amendment to the Victim and Witness Protection Act in accordance with international standards and the establishment of an effective system for vetting existing members of the national witness protection authority and associated bodies. The amendment should include procedures so that witnesses and victims can testify from abroad by means that will assure the integrity of the process while protecting the identity of witnesses from those not directly involved in the judicial proceedings.

The former ambassador also responded to the recently released International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) report on torture at the Joseph Camp.

“I am concerned about the continued “culture of impunity” in Sri Lanka that is evidenced by the acts of torture and sexual violence documented by the just-released report of the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) on past and present incidents at the Vanni Security Force Headquarters (commonly known as “Joseph Camp”) in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka.”

“The ITJP’s investigation has identified alleged perpetrators, interviewed scores of victims and established patterns. Sri Lankan authorities can use this report and many others as an immediate starting point for vetting and investigations. The survivors of brutal torture and repeated sexual violence have been permanently injured by these horrific acts and are entitled to justice. A strong message must be sent to perpetrators that they will be held to account to deter further acts of torture and sexual violence,” he stated.