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LLRC report, UNHRC and International Community

India’s call for an “independent and credible mechanism is put in place to investigate allegations of human rights as brought out by the LLRC” was endorsed by Britain and Canada this week. Alastair Burt, Minister with responsibility for Sri Lanka, commenting on the LLRC report told the House of Commons: “We continue to believe it is important that an independent, credible and thorough mechanism is put in place to investigate all allegations of grave abuses…”
Here are excerpts:

The British Government welcomes the fact that the LLRC report has been published in full. We have read the report closely and have considered in particular its findings relating to: reconciliation and an enduring political solution in the North and East; accountability for alleged war crimes committed during the conflict; and on-going human rights issues in Sri Lanka……..

The British Government believes that the report contains many constructive recommendations for action on post-conflict reconciliation and a political settlement. Implementation of these recommendations, however, is the real test of Sri Lanka’s progress.

We note the Commission’s conclusion that the root cause of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka lies in the failure of successive governments to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil people and the recommendation that the Sri Lankan government should take the lead in delivering a devolution package. We urge the Sri Lankan government to implement quickly this recommendation and the LLRC’s call for the Northern Province to be returned to civilian administration. We note the Sri Lankan government’s recent assurance that it will ensure the withdrawal of security forces from all aspects of community life and restrict their role exclusively to security matters.

We agree with the recommendation that more action be taken to help internally displaced persons rebuild their lives. We also agree that the government should make available to relatives a list of all detainees in custody since the end of the conflict; publicly declare all detention sites; and allow family, judicial and International Committee of the Red Cross access. We support the call for anyone responsible for unlawful detentions to be prosecuted.

The British Government is, on the whole, disappointed by the report’s findings and recommendations on accountability. Like many others, we feel that these leave many gaps and unanswered questions. We welcome the acknowledgement that “considerable civilian casualties” occurred during the final stages of the conflict and the recommendation that specific incidents require further investigation. But we note that many credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including from the UN Panel of Experts report, are either not addressed or only partially answered. We believe that video footage, authenticated by UN Special Rapporteurs, should inform substantive, not just technical, investigations into apparent grave abuses.

The British Government believes that the report’s recommendations on on-going human rights issues in Sri Lanka are well founded. We hope they will be implemented vigorously. We welcome especially the focus on tackling attacks on media freedom and disappearances – including thousands of outstanding cases.

We encourage the Sri Lankan government to move quickly to implement the LLRC report’s recommendations. Some recommendations could be completed in a matter of months. Others may take time to implement fully, but initial steps can be taken now. Ultimately, the success or failure of the LLRC will be judged on the Sri Lankan government’s implementation of its recommendations.
On accountability, implementing the report’s recommendations would represent a useful first step. But we continue to believe it is important that an independent, credible and thorough mechanism is put in place to investigate all allegations of grave abuses.

The British Government has consistently condemned terrorism in all its forms. The LTTE is a brutal and ruthless organisation which remains proscribed in the UK. Our long-term interest is in a stable, peaceful Sri Lanka, free from the scourge of terrorism, and as a fellow member of the Commonwealth, conforming to the standards and values which Commonwealth membership requires.

Sri Lanka’s aim of achieving reconciliation amongst its people is one we value. It can be achieved through an honest acknowledgement of the past and processes, in which all parties take part, to ensure justice, reconciliation and political progress. We remain committed to helping Sri Lanka achieve lasting peace and reconciliation and will work with international partners to this end, including with the assistance of relevant international organisations.”

Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper said this week that he had not changed his government’s position that they would not attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka in 2013. His Foreign Minister, John Baird said in a statement:

“Canada notes the public release of the report of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. Although we are still studying the report, the commission has addressed and provided recommendations in some areas of concern, including reconciliation, the rule of law and demilitarization.
“Canada strongly urges the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the commission’s recommendations and develop an implementation road map with clear timelines while also addressing the issues the report did not cover. The report’s recommendations-if implemented-can contribute to the process of political reconciliation that must now take place to address the root causes of deadly strife and division. However, to date, we have seen a lack of both accountability and meaningful attempts at reconciliation on the part of the Sri Lankan government. Decisive action is now required.

“Canada remains concerned that the report does not fully address the grave accusations of serious human rights violations that occurred toward the end of the conflict. Many of the allegations outlined by the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka have not been adequately addressed by this report. We continue to call for an independent investigation into the credible and serious allegations raised by the UN Secretary-General’s Panel that international humanitarian law and human rights were violated by both sides in the conflict. The Government of Sri Lanka must demonstrate the principles of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

The 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is due to be held in Geneva from February 27 to March 23. Ahead of this, foreign governments are making their positions known over the LLRC report. The government has learnt of moves to raise issue over Sri Lanka at these sessions. It is still not clear whether the western nations would move a resolution or whether a non-western country would do so on their behalf. Even countries friendly to Sri Lanka are being mentioned.

In the meanwhile efforts are also continuing to persuade the government to agree to an “interactive dialogue” both on the report of the UN panel of experts who ruled that alleged war crimes have been committed and on the LLRC report. For such an exercise, the consent of the government of Sri Lanka would be required. External Affairs Minister Peiris is said to have received informal soundings over this matter. In response, he has raised the all-important question – if Sri Lanka does agree, would the matter end there with no cries for ‘international probes.’ With no preparations or a strategy for an eventuality by the Ministry of External Affairs, or for that matter the government of Sri Lanka, a whole nation waits in suspense.

from ST political column

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