India’s World: UN report on Sri Lanka War Crimes
The report of UN Human Rights Council on war crimes in Sri Lanka is finally out. It has recommended the setting up of special hybrid court with international judges to try the crimes committed by both the Srilankan army and the LTTE in the civil war between 2002 and 2009. This is a major blow to Sri Lanka’s insistence on holding a purely domestic probe. A few days before this report was released, the new government in Sri Lanka had unveiled plans to set up truth and reconciliation commission to examine war crimes allegations including those against the army. now, the future of those plans seems uncertain.
UN human rights commissioner has said that a purely domestic procedure will have no chance of overcoming widespread and justifiable suspicion fuelled by decades of violation, malpractice and broken promises. Rights group claim that the srilankan army killed 40000 civilians in the war. The report notes that Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system is not yet ready or equipped to conduct a credible investigation that would deal with the legacy of anger and scepticism left by the previous government, as well as the sheer scale and gravity of the violations.
However, Sri Lankan Prime Minister has rejected a UN recommendation for international involvement in its investigation into alleged war crimes. He has said that there is nothing to be gained by international involvement, rejecting the idea that the inquiry would be hybrid. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to bring war criminals to justice, with his government announcing plans to set up a truth commission, war reparations office and commission on missing people. Members of the Tamil minority have expressed distrust in a purely domestic inquiry.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has defended the findings of its report. The UN report has come amid mounting pressure on the Sri Lankan government from human rights groups and the international community to investigate and prosecute abuses during the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) investigation was initiated after a US-sponsored resolution was passed in the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014.
The Sri Lankan government refused any international investigations during the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who presided over the military’s push to end the Tamil insurgency in 2009. This led the United Nations to proceed in March 2014 without Sri Lanka’s cooperation. When Mr. Rajapaksa was defeated in January elections, the council delayed its report to allow the new government of Maithripala Sirisena to come up with plans for national reconciliation and to work with international investigators.
The new government has been coming out with new measures, since its inception. It passed the 19th amendment to the constitution, which essentially reduces the power of the presidency. The Tamils received another gesture towards reconciliation, when the sixth anniversary of the defeat of the Tamil Tigers was marked as a memorial day, rather than as a day of victory.
The report has also proposed some measures. Proposed measures include returning private land seized by the army, ending the harassment of human rights defenders, passing legislation criminalizing war crimes and enforced disappearances, establishing a witness-protection program, developing a national reparations policy and providing psychosocial support for victims.