Image: Batticaloa Kalady beach, July 2017. (c)s.deshapriya.
The war crimes cases registered against former army commander General Jagath Jayasuriya in five South American countries even while he was Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Brazil would alert the government that it needs to take remedial action without further delay. Although the former army commander had diplomatic immunity, international law also states that those accused of war crimes are subject to universal jurisdiction. Last week at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, expressed his concern over the slow pace of reforms in Sri Lanka and said the absence of action on accountability meant exercising universal jurisdiction would become even more necessary.
The possibility exists that the cases registered against General Jayasuriya and the international publicity they have generated, will encourage similar international legal actions not only military personnel, but also political leaders and public service officials who had significant roles to play in the war. International law comes into operation when the national (or domestic) law is not properly implemented. The resolution of the UN Human Rights Council that was co-sponsored by the government in October 2015 states that the government will set up four special domestic mechanisms to deal with the aftermath of the war. These are a truth commission, office of missing persons, office of reparations and special court for accountability purposes.
So far only the legislation for the office of missing persons has been passed by parliament and gazetted by the president which will become operational from today. If the government is able to show that it has a credible domestic legal process underway in the transitional justice mechanisms it sets up, and that justice is done within the country, the requirement of international legal processes will diminish correspondingly. The National Peace Council calls on the government to implement the four mechanisms it has promised without further delay.