Sri Lanka re-commits to accountability mechanism with special counsel
Posted on November 26th, 2017


Following Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held at the Human Rights Councils in Geneva on the 15th of November 2017, and the adoption of its Report on the 24th, a draft outcome document called “Draft report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review”, which includes recommendations was circulated in the Council on Friday, the 24th November 2017.

Recommendations are made by UN member states on measures that can be taken to improve the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has the three options of accepting, rejecting or taking note of those recommendations.

While it was stated during the debate in Parliament on the Foreign Ministry budget that officials of the Foreign Ministry are of the view that Lord Naseby’s recent revelations on the casualty figures had not been used thus far because they feel that the evidence he unearthed should be used optimally in the most appropriate forums, it is unclear how the UN Human Rights Council did not qualify during a universal review by all UN member states of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Situation, especially since there were several references to Resolution 30/1 during the review.

At the same debate, answering a question from Bandula Gunawardene MP, as to when exactly the Minister thought they would be using Lord Naseby’s statements, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said with unfathomable logic, that if they announce this “everywhere”, we’d be giving our opponents plenty of time to come up with counter arguments, therefore we should bring it up only when the subject of war crimes allegations come up. But they had already come up at the UPR!

With all due respect to the Minister, since the false allegations of genocidal numbers of civilian causalities in Sri Lanka are repeated “everywhere”, shouldn’t the Ministry disseminate Lord Naseby’s evidence-based challenge to those numbers as widely as possible, everywhere, and anywhere they can, especially because those falsehoods are being used “everywhere” to denigrate and endanger Sri Lanka’s standing in the world and those who fought the war?

Withholding this information for fear of counter arguments hardly inspires confidence in the Ministry’s ability or competence to carry out its expected tasks.

Listed below are some of the recommendations that the Govt. delegation has accepted on behalf of Sri Lanka:

(The figures on the left refers to the number allocated to each recommendation)

116.70. Guarantee completion of ongoing investigations into abuse committed against civilian population during the civil war. (France)

16.73. Hold security forces and government officials accountable for human rights violations and abuses. (United States of America)

116.74. Deepen investigation of cases of human rights violations committed during the conflict, punish the perpetrators and provide adequate reparation to the victims. (Argentina)

116.76. Fulfil all the commitments made on transitional justice, including through the creation of an accountability mechanism which is credible, victim-centric and supported by international practitioners and through full operationalization of independent and impartial work of the recently established Office of missing persons. (Slovenia)

116.77. Establish comprehensive transitional justice mechanism, including operation alizing of an Office of Missing Persons, a truth-seeking commission, an Office of Reparations and a judicial mechanism with a special counsel as committed to. (South Africa)

116.90. Fully implement the commitments agreed to in Human Rights Council resolution 30/1. (United States of America)

116.91. Fully implement its commitments under Human Rights Council resolution 30/1. (Australia)

116.130. Strengthen the democratic control of the defence sector, in particular suspend the involvement of members of the armed forces in economic activities, in order to ensure guarantee of property of citizens, as well as their livelihoods. (Switzerland)

116.131. Accelerate the restitution of lands confiscated by the army and set up a satisfactory compensation system. (France)

Given below are some of the recommendations that the Sri Lankan delegation have exercised the option of ‘noting’ rather than ‘rejecting’:

117.36. Take comprehensive measures to ensure that the alleged war crimes and other human rights violations committed during the internal conflict are investigated and prosecuted with the aim to end impunity. (Estonia)

117.37. Expedite the ongoing process and establish a clear timeline to establish a truth-seeking commission and an Office on Reparations as well as a special court to investigate allegations of serious human rights violations. (Republic of Korea)

117.39. Develop a clear timeline and benchmarks for the full implementation of Sri Lanka’s commitments under Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. (Germany)

117.40. Develop a clear timeline and benchmarks for the full implementation of its commitments in Human Rights Council resolution 30/1. (Norway)

117.41. Develop an unambiguous timeline accompanied with a monitoring framework for the full implementation of its commitments under Human Rights Council resolution 30/1. (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia)

117.42. Act on its commitments in Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 including to establish transitional justice mechanisms, and to establish a clear timeline to this end. (Austria)

117.43. Develop a clear timeline and benchmarks for the full implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 30/1. (Denmark)

117.44. Foster reconciliation through accelerated implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 30/1, including by launching the Office of Missing Persons, ending military involvement in civilian functions, returning lands to civilian owners, and establishing a judicial mechanism with the participation of foreign investigators, prosecutors and judges. (Canada)

117.45. Fully implement the recommendations of the Consultative Task Force on Reconciliation, including to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and replace it with international best practice legislation. (Australia)

There were several Voluntary pledges and commitments made by Sri Lanka including to “Fulfill commitments contained in United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 towards the operationalization of the Office on Missing Persons, and the establishment of a truth seeking commission, an office for reparations, and a judicial mechanism with a special counsel.”

At its next UPR and other sessions of the Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka will be reviewed on its progress on the recommendations that it has accepted.

While ‘noting’ does not commit Sri Lanka to implementing the recommendations so noted, it is surprising that given the stand that President Sirisena has publicly taken on the issues, the recommendations for ‘timelines’ and ‘the participation of foreign investigators and prosecutors and judges’ have not been rejected by Sri Lanka.

The delegation to the UPR was headed by (Dr.) Harsha de Silva, MP Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs and included the following members: Prasad Kariyawasam, Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ravinatha Aryasinha, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva; Nerin Pulle, Deputy Solicitor General, Attorney General’s Department;Mrs. Samantha Jayasuriya, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka in Geneva;Ms. Mahishini Colonne, Director General/ UN, US, Canada, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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