Pressure has been mounting on Sri Lanka during the past week as the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) begins its 22nd session in Geneva tomorrow.
Several human rights groups and nongovernmental organizations have submitted reports to the Council regarding Sri Lanka, to be considered for discussion at the session.
This is apart from the reports submitted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the draft resolution submitted by the United States and, according to unconfirmed reports, a possible second resolution to be submitted by the European Union.
The European Parliament last week passed a resolution on the upcoming UN Human Rights Council, re-emphasising the need for accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
Jean Lambert, Chair of the European Parliament Delegation to South Asia, told The Sunday Leader that the European Parliament welcomed the UNHRC resolution last year on Sri Lanka, and would hope that progress has been made since its adoption.
“It is promising to note that there has not been an outbreak of conflict since the end of the war in 2009. We have seen some of the infrastructure investment made by the Government in the former conflict zones and have also discussed issues of job creation and social investment, which are positive steps forward and to be welcomed. However, many unsettled issues remain such as the inclusion of the Tamil population in post-war reconstruction efforts, and implementation of the recommendations contained in the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Report,” she told The Sunday Leader.
She also said that the EU remains concerned about reports of threats and attacks on human rights defenders and journalists in Sri Lanka, and encourages authorities to hold those responsible accountable.
Accountability is going to be the key word used on Sri Lanka at the 22nd UNHRC session with the US, human rights groups and NGOs pointing out that the government has failed to adequately address accountability over the final stages of the war.
A new video which also shows images of LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s son having a snack before being shot dead, allegedly after being captured by the military, is set to add to that pressure on Sri Lanka at the Council.
The government and the army have already flatly denied the latest allegations and countries like China, Russia and Cuba have already indicated that they will, as usual, back Sri Lanka against any allegations set to be raised at the Council session.
Lambert said that the European Union, along with other international actors, maintains its position in calling for an independent investigation and evaluation into the final years of the war, in addition to the national enquiries.
“We encourage the Sri Lankan authorities to work together with the UN Human Rights Office in this regard,” she said.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has offered technical advice to Sri Lanka and she will discuss the response she has got from the government to that offer during the 22nd session of the UNHRC which begins tomorrow. Meanwhile the US, in its first draft of the resolution on Sri Lanka to be submitted to the Council, notes that the government’s National Action Plan on human rights and the LLRC’s report do not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international law.
The draft resolution, among other things, urges the Government of Sri Lanka to formally respond to outstanding requests, including providing unfettered access by special procedures mandate holders, in particular the Special Rapporteurs on independence of judges and lawyers, torture, human rights defenders, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
Liberation, an international nongovernmental organisation, has in a written statement to the Council for the 22nd session, said that while it understands that it takes time and great effort to ensure accountability, foster reconciliation and build lasting peace, following the end of armed conflict it is not unreasonable to suggest that, almost four years on from the demise of the LTTE, all communities on the island, as well as members of the international community, would at least have confidence that Sri Lanka is on the path to a better future with equal rights and opportunities for its people.
“This is, unfortunately, not the case. If the Government of Sri Lanka is not prepared to do what is necessary, then it is incumbent upon member states of the UN, through auspices such as the UNHRC, to hold Sri Lanka to account,” it said.
International Educational Development, Inc.(IED) and the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers (AHL), in a separate written statement to the Council, says the Council should recommend and encourage an appropriate international mechanism to ensure full accountability for what took place during the war and provide appropriate remedies for the Tamil people.
“Such remedies must ensure provisions to prevent the recurrence of violations against the Tamil people. The government of Sri Lanka has impeded efforts in this regard for far too long. All mandate holders should consider both individual and joint measures to address both the ongoing violations of human rights now taking place as well as contributing a review of how the United Nations system failed the Tamil people,” it said.
The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) and its sister organisation the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) have also submitted a written statement to the Council regarding 46 complaints of torture and ill-treatment.
The written statement says all the cases are related to serious assaults on persons after arrest and during the period of detention at police stations. It also gives the names of the 46 victims.
Leading human rights groups and advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group (ICG) have also added their voices to concerns over Sri Lanka in press statements issued over the past week.
ICG has called for a new, stronger resolution on Sri Lanka at the 22nd session of the UNHRC, which notes clearly the government’s refusal to respect the previous resolution by failing to implement the most important LLRC recommendations and refusing to investigate credible allegations of grave violations of international humanitarian law.
The government has meanwhile on its part indicated it is prepared to face allegations set to be raised at the Council and will counter those allegations using the outcome of the domestic investigations including the reports of the investigations carried out by the army.
An army court of inquiry, in a report submitted last week, said that evidence before the army court has conclusively established that the war was conducted strictly in accordance with the “Zero Civilian Casualty” directive made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The report said that commanders at all times obeyed the directive and the directives from the higher headquarters with regard to No Fire Zones (NFZs) and even when the LTTE had fired from NFZ, commanders refrained from firing at such NFZs.
“Evidence revealed that at all stages of the Humanitarian Operation, the Sri Lanka Army behaved as a well-disciplined military force observing the IHL and the law of war and they took all the precautions to avoid civilian casualties and all those who came under the control of the Sri Lanka Army, including surrendered/captured LTTE cadres, were treated humanely observing the IHL to the letter.
On the contrary, shocking details of war crimes committed by LTTE terrorists such as using of civilian as Human Shields, summary executions of civilians who attempted to escape to army lines, forced conscription of children for combat purposes etc. were revealed at the inquiry,” the army report said.
While the West is pointing fingers at the army over alleged “war crimes” the army court noted that the international community had failed in their duty to stop the war crimes committed by the LTTE.
By Easwaran Rutnam