”The complete absence of any credible criminal investigations and prosecutions, even in cases with abundant evidence, demonstrates that the Sri Lankan government has failed to meet its obligations under international law. The video of apparent summary executions broadcast by Channel 4 is just one such example. Information posted on the website of the Ministry of Defence implicates the 53rd Division of the Sri Lankan army in the executions.”
Thank you Madame President,
The Council should act on the recommendations contained in the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts Report, which details grave abuses during the final months of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict. The Secretary-General has said that he would welcome a mandate to establish an international investigation mechanism, the main recommendation contained in the Panel’s report.
The Panel of Experts report, which the Secretary-General sent to the Human Rights Council on 12 September 2011, concludes that up to 40,000 civilians may have died amid war crimes. The scale of reported deaths over a five-month period make this among the most serious human rights crises to have been brought to the attention of the Council since its creation. The Human Rights Council should respond by ordering a full international investigation into these allegations – anything less would be a shameful abdication of responsibility.
In the joint communiqué of 23 May 2009 between the Secretary-General and President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General “underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law” and the Sri Lankan government agreed to “take measures to address those grievances.” This joint communiqué and the understandings contained therein were endorsed by the Human Rights Council on 27 May 2009 at its 11th Special Session (A/HRC/RES/S-11/1).
The Secretary-General appointed a Panel of Experts on 22 June 2010 to advise him on the implementation of the joint communiqué. The Panel’s report, published on 25 April, concluded that government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) conducted military operations “with flagrant disregard for the protection, rights, welfare and lives of civilians and failed to respect the norms of international law.” The report also found that tens of thousands of civilians might have died during the last five months of the war, the majority by government shelling.
The Panel of Experts examined “reports, documents and other written accounts” by UN and inter-governmental organizations, nongovernmental groups and journalists and experts on Sri Lanka, as well as satellite imagery, photographs, and video materials. It recommended that Sri Lanka conduct genuine investigations into the allegations alongside the international investigation, but it also found that “Sri Lanka’s efforts, nearly two years after the end of the war, fall dramatically short of international standards on accountability and fail to satisfy either the joint commitment of the President of Sri Lanka and the Secretary-General, or Sri Lanka’s legal duties.”
The complete absence of any credible criminal investigations and prosecutions, even in cases with abundant evidence, demonstrates that the Sri Lankan government has failed to meet its obligations under international law. The video of apparent summary executions broadcast by Channel 4 is just one such example. Information posted on the website of the Ministry of Defence implicates the 53rd Division of the Sri Lankan army in the executions. And yet, there has been no credible investigation.
The government claims that its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will address allegations of wrongdoing. This is nothing but a delaying tactic. The LLRC falls far short of international standards for such commissions and it has failed to objectively inquire about alleged violations. If the government were serious about addressing alleged violations, it would launch criminal investigations immediately, and not use the LLRC as an excuse to postpone such investigations for an indefinite period.
Instead of investigating alleged violations, the Sri Lankan government has been conducting an aggressive public relations offensive against the Panel of Experts, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and others who call for accountability, summarily dismissing all allegations as fake or LTTE propaganda
Given Sri Lanka’s dismissive approach, the Council should ensure international oversight of Sri Lanka’s domestic accountability efforts.
Madame President, in closing let me address another issue. At this session, Sri Lankan officials have touted the decision not to renew the emergency regulations as important progress toward normalization. Emergency regulations lifted in Sri Lanka, however, do not affect existing laws that allow the government to detain people for long periods without trial.
Many of the powers in the emergency regulations can also be found in the existing Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Just like the emergency regulations, the PTA allows for arrests for vaguely defined “unlawful activities” without warrant and permits detention for 18 months or longer without charges being brought against the detainee. The act also provides immunity from prosecution for government officials who may commit wrongful acts under the legislation if an official acted “in good faith,” or in “pursuance of any order made or direction given under this Act.” The Sri Lankan president has also continued to grant search and arrest powers to the country’s armed forces since emergency regulations lapsed.
The Sri Lankan government’s continually misleading representation of the human rights situation in the country should be a matter of concern for the Council. We hope that the Council will not let such efforts deflect from the important concern at hand: to press forward with an international accountability mechanism that that will ensure justice for the victims of Sri Lanka’s long war and a more secure future for all of its people.