Report of the Secretary General’s panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka –Responses of the international community
by Sunanda Deshapriya
The report of the panel of experts appointed by the UNSG on accountability issues in Sri Lanka was officially released on 25th April 2011. Since then growing number of countries have been expressing their stand on the report. China and Russia has supported the GOSL against the panel recommendations.
In neighboring India although number of political parties including the Chief minister of Tamil Nadu have expressed strong opinions supporting the panel recommendations the government of India has maintained its silence on the contents of the report. . The Maldives is the only South Asian country that has made its opinion public, that is opposing the recommendations.
African National Congress (ANC) and Canadian Liberal party have issued statements supporting the panel recommendations. Number of Tamil Diaspora outfits also has supported the panel report to varying degrees.
European parliament representing 27 countries passed a resolution requesting the GOSL to implement panel recommendations. The European parliament refused to accommodate a amendment “to seek the immediate establishment of an international justice mechanism” in the final joint resolution. This resolution calls for re-establishing rule of law and independence of judiciary while granting emphasising the importance granting of equal rights for Tamil people.
Except the international human rights organizations no government has supported the panel recommendation for establishing a international mechanism immediately in order to investigate the allegations of crimes against humanity. There seems to be a unwritten consensus among the international actors that Government of Sri Lanka should be given a time to come up with independent, transparent accountability mechanism in accordance with international standards before any discussion on international investigation.
But GOSL has not responded to this call positively.
Mean while the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by the President of Sri Lanka has requested a six months extension . The extension has been granted and now it will look into the issues raised in the UN Panel of Experts’ report and its contents. The final report of the LLRC is due in November 2011. Although the panel report has dismissed the LLRC as a non-independent, non-credible mechanism, number of governments including European parliament have mentioned the establishment of LLRC as a positive step and called for a enhanced mandated for LLRC.
The Secretary General Ban Ki-noon: Take the report seriously
The Panel’s first recommendation is that the Government of Sri Lanka should respond to the serious allegations by initiating an effective accountability process beginning with genuine investigations. The Secretary-General has consistently held the view that Sri Lanka should, first and foremost, assume responsibility for ensuring accountability for the alleged violations. This and a number of other short and medium-term recommendations that the Panel proposed in regard to steps that could be undertaken by the Government of Sri Lanka… He encourages the Sri Lankan authorities to respond constructively.[i]
“All Member States, whether they are in the Security Council, whether they are in the Human Rights Council, and obviously by definition, in the General Assembly, have access to it (the report). And the Secretary-General has publicly said that he is sure that all Member States will take that report seriously and act accordingly, draw the necessary conclusions,” Nesirky said.[ii]
OHCHR– High Commissioner Nava Pillai: International inquiry needed
“The eyewitness accounts and credible information contained in this report demand a full, impartial, independent and transparent investigation,” … “Unless there is a sea-change in the Government’s response, which has so far been one of total denial and blanket impunity, a full-fledged international inquiry will clearly be needed.”
The High Commissioner noted the recent initiatives taken by the Human Rights Council to combat impunity and address accountability issues in different parts of the world, and encouraged its members to reflect on the new information and findings contained in the report on Sri Lanka.[iii]
China: Do not complicate
China said Saturday that it believes the Sri Lankan government and people will handle properly problems concerning its civil war and urged the international community not to complicate the issue. “We hope that the international community could help develop a favorable external environment for the Sri Lankan government to stabilize the country’s internal situation and accelerate economic growth, and avoid taking measures that could further complicate the issue,” Hong said.[iv]
Russia: it is not a “UN report”
The report prepared by the panel of experts, …is not a UN report, said Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Sri Lanka H.E. Valdimir P.Mikhaylov. It was just a personal initiative of the UN Secretary General”. ..”Unfortunately it seems that the panel of experts went beyond its task,” .. “we believe that now, when Sri Lanka healing its wounds after long armed conflict, the UN may render its assistance, if needed, and not to complicate the process of reconciliation.[v]
The Maldives: Why now?
(President Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair)
“I’m concerned the UN report is a bit belated. Why say it now? Why not when the war was going on? My point is that this report only appeared after the war was over. We support the Sri Lankan government’s desire for peace and harmony, and any government that brought about that peace should be held in high honour.”
If an investigation was to take place, Zuhair suggested, “it should happen in an independent manner, with reconciliation on both sides.”[vi]
Responses ( positive)
France: LLRC and panel report should be complementary
“The authorities of Sri Lanka set up in 2010 a Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation with the aim of facilitating the national reconciliation. The work of this Commission and that of the experts named by the Secretary General of the United Nations must be complementary. We invite the authorities of Sri Lanka to collaborate in a constructive way with the international community. In the fight against impunity, it is crucial to follow a true policy of national reconciliation whatever the country. We encourage the authorities in Sri Lanka to implement their engagements in these two fields.” [vii]
ST political column
French ambassador Gerard Araud, taking over the UN Security Council presidency for May, brought up Sri Lanka during his beginning of the month press conference and answering Inner City Press said that investigation is up to the Sri Lankan authorities, as something they should do to “improve the reconciliation process.” [viii]
Japan: Work with UN
“Japan expects the Sri Lankan government to make concrete efforts towards national reconciliation through its domestic process of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission while maintaining close consultations with the UN.[ix]
New Zealand: International investigation unless GOSL address the issue
The report has noted obstacles to accountability in Sri Lanka. Should these persist and the Sri Lankan Government is unable to address the concerns detailed in the Panel’s report, I am certain the international community, including New Zealand, will be open to considering appropriate international investigative mechanisms to bring justice and accountability to the victims of the Sri Lankan war. [x]
Norway: Sri Lanka should a investigation
(Erik Solheimm Minister for the Environment and International Development)
“It is my view that Sri Lankan authorities should investigate this [UN Panel] material, that had come with strong accusations against them. It is correct and fair [to expect] that a such [domestic] process takes place”.
“It [credibility] depends on the composition [of investigation] and what material comes out [of such domestic investigation]. But, what the broader international community demands, nearly all Western countries, is that Sri Lanka itself should conduct such investigations. If it doesn’t happen, we will need to consider what we have to do.”[xi]
UK: Encourage Sri Lanka to respond positively
The UK has consistently called for an independent and credible investigation to address these allegations which is why we fully supported the decision of the Secretary-General to establish the Panel of Experts.
The [panel] report sets out the importance of a genuine and independent investigation, so that allegations of abuses are seen to have been addressed. We encourage Sri Lanka to use its response to the UN report and the report’s recommendations to strengthen the process of accountability and support lasting peace and security.[xii]
USA: First look to Sri Lanka to take responsibility
(Robert O. Blake, Jr, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs )
..”the island could have its own investigation in line with internationally accepted human rights standards, rather than face an external inquiry “…”We look first to the host government, in this case the government of Sri Lanka, to take responsibility (for) these issues,” [xiii]
The report highlights the need for an independent and full accounting of the facts in order to ensure that allegations of abuse are addressed and impunity for human rights violations is avoided. We strongly support the Secretary General’s call for the Sri Lankan authorities to respond constructively to the report and underscore our belief that accountability and reconciliation are inextricably linked. [xiv]
Switzerland: Welcomes the Panel report
“Switzerland appreciates the fact that the United Nations in general and the Security Council in particular are addressing …the duty to investigate allegations of violations of international humanitarian law or human rights and to hold persons accountable for breaches of these rules. …Switzerland welcomes the report of the Panel of Experts mandated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the accountability of the parties in the conflict in Sri Lanka in 2009.”[xv]
European parliament (27 countries): GOSL should implement recommendations
Following a recently published UN report which finds credible the allegations that both government forces and the LTTE conducted military operations with “flagrant” violations of human rights, MEPs call for a full, impartial and transparent investigation. The EP urges the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations suggested by the UN panel of experts and conduct a genuine investigation.[xvi]
11. Ask both the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka held accountable for committing violations of international humanitarian law and human rights;
12. Urges the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the advisory group, starting with “immediate steps” to initiate an immediate and genuine investigations into allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations by both sides of armed conflict;[xvii]
(Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland,
France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg. Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania , Slovakia. Slovenia, Spain, Sweden,
Responses ( India)
Bharatiya Janatha party (BJP) – India should not bail out Sri Lanka
…India should not bail out the Sri Lankan government from being implicated in the report of the UN panel of experts for violation of human rights during the final stages of the war with the LTTE,.. “India should not subject itself again to be charged as supporting genocide by Sri Lanka.”[xviii]
(BJP, the largest opposition party has 116 members in 543 constituency Lok Sabha)
Communist Party of India (Marxist ) – War criminals should be punished
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) will organise demonstrations in major cities of the State, demanding an enquiry into “war crimes” committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces in the final phase of the civil war.
The party’s state executive committee has already passed a resolution seeking punishment against the war criminals.[xix]
(CPI(M) has 16 members in the Lok Sabha)
The CPI(M) state unit today urged the Indian government to exert ‘diplomatic pressure’ on Sri Lanka to ensure punishment for those responsible for alleged war crimes, as indicted by a UN panel.[xx]
Communist Party of India – Prosecute Rajapaksha
Communist Party of India (CPI) leader R. Nallakannu here on Wednesday inaugurated a signature campaign demanding the prosecution of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the international court, “for his role in the genocide in the island nation during its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.” The campaign, an initiative of the Tamirabharani Panpaattu Arangam, is being conducted in the wake of the United Nation’s revelations of “war crimes” by Sri Lankan armed forces.[xxi]
Responses ( Tamil Nadu – India)
AIADMK, Tamil Nadu ruling party – Need international trail
Citing the leaked UN expert panel’s report on Sri Lanka’s war crimes, Tamil Nadu’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party has demanded India take steps to ensure Sri Lanka’s leadership stands international trial. “The UN Panel report is very clear. It lists out the war crimes of the Sri Lankan government,”…” Sri Lankan forces “had shelled no fire zones and hospitals, deprived humanitarian aid in the form of food supply and medicine.”[xxii]
(AIADMK has 196 seats in the 234 constituency in of Tamil Nadu state assembly)
Chief Minister, Tamil Nadu – Declare Rajapaksha as a war criminal
Set to form the next government in Tamil Nadu, AIADMK supremo J, Jayalalithaa today said the Centre should declare Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse a “war criminal” for the “genocide” of Tamils in the island nation.India should come out with economic sanctions against Sri Lanka to compel the government to take steps to mitigate the sufferings of Sri Lankan Tamils and provide them “an honourable and decent life,” she told Jaya TV.[xxiii]
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) – Set up a International tribunal
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a constituent of the United Progressive Alliance regime at the Centre, demanded the constitution of an international tribunal to examine “war crimes” allegedly committed by Sri Lankan forces as recommended by a United Nations committee. In a resolution passed at a meeting of its high-level committee, the DMK said those involved in war crimes should face appropriate punishment.[xxiv]
DMK has 36 seats in the state assembly.
Responses (political parties )
ANC, South Africa – calls for independent investigative body
The African National Congress has consistently condemned any act of violation of human rights in all conflict areas. The ANC supports the recommendations of the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Panel of Experts that called for the establishment of an independent body to investigate all violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws committed in the conflict.
We also call on the government of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to address the core grievances of the Tamil population and engage in a genuine reconciliation process.[xxv]
ANC is the ruling party in South Africa
NDF, Canada – Launch independent investigation
“The New Democratic Party fully supports the recommendations made in the recently released independent UN Panel Report on accountability during and after the war in Sri Lanka. “We believe those responsible must be prosecuted and urges the UN to launch an immediate and independent investigation.[xxvi]
NDF is the Opposition party in Canadian parliament
Liberal Party, Canada – Canada should support panel findings
“The independent UN panel investigating allegations of crimes committed during the Sri Lankan conflict has made some very serious findings. “Canada should support the findings of the independent panel and its recommendations. ..All UN countries should receive this report openly and cooperate in aiding the progress of its recommendations.”[xxvii]
Liberal party has 34 seats in the House of Commons (out of 308) and 46 seats in the Senate ( out of 105)
Responses (Tamil Diaspora)
Global Tamil Forum – Truth is precondition for justice
It [the report] is an opportunity to find out the truth and to start a process of true reconciliation. The Report advises that an enquiry be held to hold both the Sri Lankan Government and the Tigers accountable. We Tamils of course welcome the report as being an objective one. It is an attempt to find out and bring out the truth so that justice can be done and a true reconciliation process can begin…We must find the whole truth, not just one side.. The LTTE too must be investigated.[xxviii]
Tamil Net – Why not Sudan model?
Rather than coming out with such an unqualified statement, why can’t the panel recommend a Sudan-model referendum among Eezham Tamils in the island, to see whether they are divided or united on the question of independence? [xxix]
Eezham Tamils hoodwinked by war crimes indictments that are doubtful of materialising into actions, should carefully note that the UN panel report has said nothing on the burning question of colonization of the Tamil country by Colombo in listing obstacles to ‘sustainable peace and reconciliation’. On the contrary, it advises especially the diaspora to realise that all ethnic communities in the island “share a common homeland.”[xxx]
Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam – Refer to ICC prosecutor
Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) urged United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to refer the ruling class and the armed forces officers of Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor. As justification the TGTE claimed that of the five areas of potential serious violations committed by the Government of Sri Lanka as alleged by the Panel, four, have established that an act of genocide has been planned and perpetrated by Sri Lankan government and its armed forces. [xxxi]