Facebook icon
Twitter icon
e-mail icon

Sri Lanka not yet demonstrated willingness to address impunity - UN Human Rights chief

In his report published ahead of the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said the "authorities have not yet demonstrated the capacity or willingness to address impunity for gross violations and abuses of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law", arguing the failure to show major progress in emblematic cases strengthens the argument for "the establishment of a specialized court to deal with the most serious crimes committed by State actors in the context of conflict... staffed by specialized personnel and supported by international practitioners". 

Reiterating his call for member states to use universal jurisdiction in order to foster accountability, the report said that for such a mechanism of accountability to be credible and trusted by the victimes "it would require a substantial degree of external support. In the absence of such a mechanism, OHCHR calls on Member States to exercise universal jurisdiction when required."

Expressing concern over the lack of progress on accountability and reform, the report reiterated the call for the use of universal jurisdiction in its concluding paragraph: "The High Commissioner urges the Human Rights Council to continue to play a critical role in encouraging progress in accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. It also calls on Member States to explore other avenues, including the application of universal jurisdiction, that could foster accountability."

Highlighting ongoing allegations of torture, detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and that the military occupation of land in the Northern and Eastern provinces continues, the report concluded: "the continuing allegations of torture and surveillance and the lack of sufficient progress in implementing critical confidence-building measures, such as the release of land, the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the solution to the pending cases under the Act, have antagonized key constituencies that could be instrumental to the Government’s reform efforts."

Outlining emblematic cases of ongoing impunity including the killing of the 'Trinco 5' students and the killing of the TNA MP N Raviraj, the report stated:

"As mentioned in the previous reports of the High Commissioner, the failure to show major progress in these emblematic cases strengthens the argument for the establishment of a specialized court to deal with the most serious crimes committed by State actors in the context of conflict, including gross violations of human rights and other crimes under international criminal and humanitarian law, staffed by specialized personnel and supported by international practitioners. In October 2017, the Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence commented that the case against a Sri Lankan general filed in Brazil would likely be “the tip of the iceberg”, and that many similar cases could emerge in the absence of a credible domestic solution to the problem of impunity for serious human rights violations. The High Commissioner agrees with this assessment and insists on the need for such an accountability mechanism to be promptly operationalized. For this mechanism to be credible and trusted by victims, it would require a substantial degree of external support. In the absence of such a mechanism, OHCHR calls on Member States to exercise universal jurisdiction when required."

The report is an update on progress made on the implementation of resolution 30/1 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka during the period from March 2017 to January 2018. 

Read full report here