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Sri Lanka Has The Potential To Be An Example Of How A Sustainable Peace Ought To Be Achieved – UN Expert

(Pablo de Greiff – UN photo)

GENEVA (15 September 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on transitional justice, Pablo de Greiff, today said that a ‘tradition of impunity’ seriously undermines accountability and reconciliation efforts in any country. He stressed that “prevention of recurring mass violations is not only a matter of making changes in texts; prevention calls for changes in practice and attitude in a society.”

“This can only be achieved through carefully designed and combined interventions at the level of State institutions, of civil society and in the sphere of culture and individual dispositions,” the independent expert said. “In addition to reforming institutions, more concerted work needs to be undertaken in relation to the preventive function of civil society and the potential of educational reform, arts, culture, and trauma counselling.”

Sri Lanka.

“If handled well, the case of Sri Lanka has the potential to constitute an example for both the region and the world of how a sustainable peace ought to be achieved,” the human rights expert reiterated.

“To fully realize this potential, however, Sri Lanka needs to work on parallel tracks. On the one hand, a deliberate process towards a comprehensive transitional justice strategy needs to be undertaken, which addresses the manifold challenges the country is facing such as the in-depth reform of the justice system and the security sector (military, police, intelligences services included), the establishment of independent truth-seeking mechanisms, the design of a comprehensive reparation scheme to name a few,” Mr. de Greiff added.

“Such a process needs to be guided by carefully designed and conducted consultations that will involve all sectors of Sri Lankan society, and foremost victims of past gross violations. A firm commitment by the authorities is indispensable to take such long-term process forward,” the Special Rapporteur underscored.

“Simultaneously, immediate action must include clarifying the fate of the disappeared, addressing land issues, making sure that long-standing practices of arbitrary detentions; of surveillance and harassment–particularly of women in the Eastern and Northern provinces, many of them already victims of the conflict—have really come to an end, and last but not least, providing psycho-social support to victims,” he said.

“Progress on each of these domains needs to be accompanied by concrete steps to ensure criminal accountability for serious violations. At this critical juncture, the country cannot afford to simply reproduce an approach characterized by the proliferation of deliberately half-hearted initiatives that lack basic trust by the population and that have failed to remedy fundamental institutional deficiencies.”

“The debate about whether accountability procedures should be national or international is a mere proxy for two fundamental questions: first, how to guarantee that whatever institutions are set up can be reliably trusted by citizens to do their job independently; and second, where will the specialized capacities to carry out complex investigations into mass atrocities come from,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.

Sri Lanka observations report is here

Thematic report on prevention is here


Pablo de Greiff (Colombia) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence in 2012. He has extensive professional and academic expertise on transitional justice issues, including on the four measures under this mandate (justice, truth, reparations, and guarantees on non-recurrence). Mr. de Greiff has worked with different transitional justice bodies across the world and has provided advice to a number of Governments and multilateral institutions on international policy, transitional justice, and on the linkages between justice, security and development. He was the Director of Research at the International Center for Transitional Justice from 2001 to 2014. As of June 2015, Mr. de Greiff is Director of the Project on Transitional Justice of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at the NYU School of Law.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

– from a UN press release


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