Frt: Statement on UNHCHR Annual Report
by Freedom from Torture, March 10, 2016
Statement on High Commissioner’s Annual Report Remarks on Sri Lanka
United Nation’s High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
Ann Hannah, International Advocate and Researcher at Freedom from Torture, said:
“We welcome today’s statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “the voices of victims must be heard, free from surveillance and intimidation” if the transitional justice and reconciliation process in Sri Lanka is to be successful.
“Our clients, torture survivors from Sri Lanka, have told us time and again, that that they will only have confidence in a justice process where their evidence can be heard by impartial judges, where the safety and security of witness and their families are secure and they are free from harassment and intimidation. This can only be achieved by the Sri Lankan government fulfilling the commitments it agreed last October at the Human Rights Council, including the participation of international judges in the process.
“Torture survivors want to see a justice process that holds those responsible for their torture to account and moves their country forward towards long-term peace and stability. Accountability and political settlement have to go hand in hand. Without justice survivors are left in limbo, torture continues and efforts at meaningful reconciliation are undermined.”
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, 10 March 2016
This is the central message of transitional justice. If past human rights violations are not adequately addressed, grievances and other issues at the root of the past conflicts will continue to fester, and may even lead to their recurrence.
There are important lessons in this respect for Sri Lanka, which is on its own journey towards accountability, reconciliation and durable peace. Important steps have been taken to reform the Constitution, revive independent institutions, and restore an environment for free expression and debate. Powerful symbolic gestures of reconciliation have been made, for instance singing the national anthem in Tamil – although other steps, such as the release of land held by the military, reviewing the cases of security detainees, and resolving the issue of disappearances, need to move forward faster.
The next months will be important, as the Government embarks on national consultations for the design of a comprehensive transitional justice process to implement fully this Council’s resolution. It will be very important that this takes place in an environment free of surveillance and intimidation, so the voices of victims can be heard. Reports of violations must be promptly investigated and addressed. I look forward to reporting to you further on progress at the June session.
I am also disturbed by a widespread practise of what could be termed “human rights window-dressing”. The ratification of treaties and agreements, and acceptance of recommendations stemming from UN human rights mechanisms, are not in themselves human rights achievements. There needs to be follow-up and real change to bring greater freedoms and dignity to the people. Unless consequential at the level of the rights of the individual, the work we do will remain bureaucratic – or even theatre. Human rights obligations should not be a “tick-the-box” exercise designed only to boost a country’s international image.