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LLRC transcripts are a frustrating record of missed opportunities

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But the LLRC’s interim report (forming the basis of all Government action on LLRC recommendations to date) made no reference to those allegations and included no recommendations to pursue accountability; it restricted itself to practical fixes for long-acknowledged problems.

UN Human Rights Council, Seventeenth Session,30 May – 17 June 2011
General Debate
Mr President,

Amnesty International welcomes that the High Commissioner for Human Rights has raised the need to address acountability in Sri Lanka.

On 31 March 2011, the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on accountability in Sri Lanka issued its report highlighting credible allegations that both sides in Sri Lanka’s armed conflict violated international human rights and humanitarian law, possibly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. It recommended that the Secretary-General establish an independent international mechanism to investigate the allegations. The Council should support that recommendation.

Some have argued that Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), recently extended to November 2011, should be allowed to complete its work before consideration is given to an international mechanism.  However, both Amnesty International and the Panel of Experts have determined that the LLRC is seriously flawed and will not deliver justice to the victims, and for that reason will also do little to advance reconciliation. Concern is heightened by Sri Lanka’s poor record of accountability, as decades of impunity and failed ad hoc inquiries amply demonstrate.

President Rajapaksa established the LLRC after the Secretary-General announced plans to appoint the Panel of Experts – a move Sri Lanka opposed. But the LLRC is not independent or impartial in composition or performance; it includes a former Attorney General and a former Ambassador who defended Sri Lanka against allegations of war crimes internationally in 2009.  It is not explicitly mandated to investigate violations of human rights and humanitarian law or to make recommendations aimed at bringing perpetrators to justice.  There is little evidence in the records of LLRC proceedings that the Commissioners pursued these issues with vigour. 

The LLRC sought to identify root causes of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and remedies for practical problems faced by survivors.  But its transcripts are a frustrating record of missed opportunities. Commissioners’ superficial responses to testimony lack rigor. Officials are not asked hard questions. Commissioners fail to delve deeply into allegations of human rights violations (such as enforced disappearances) and are perfunctory in dealing with witnesses, many of whom were reporting the loss of close family members and suffering obvious distress. 

These exchanges show a disturbing lack of interest in establishing accountability and scant respect for victims or the seriousness of their allegations. Witness testimony from the very first northern field inquiries and from virtually every session thereafter implicated Government forces and the LTTE in human rights and humanitarian law violations. But the LLRC’s interim report (forming the basis of all Government action on LLRC recommendations to date) made no reference to those allegations and included no recommendations to pursue accountability; it restricted itself to practical fixes for long-acknowledged problems.

The Secretary-General’s Panel concluded that the LLRC is “deeply flawed, does not meet international standards for an effective accountability mechanism and, therefore, does not and cannot satisfy the joint commitment of the President of Sri Lanka and the Secretary-General to an accountability process.”   It found that the LLRC had not conducted “genuine truth-seeking” about what happened in the final stages of the armed conflict or investigated systematically and impartially the allegations of serious violations on both sides of the war. It also found that victims were treated with insufficient respect and denied witness protection. Amnesty International concurs.

Thank you Mr. President.

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