HRW: UN Rights Chief Backs International Inquiry

Government’s Refusal to Provide Justice Means UN Rights Council Should Act

by Human Rights Watch, February 26, 2014

(New York) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should adopt the recommendation of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to create an independent international inquiry into war crimes and other serious abuses committed during Sri Lanka’s armed conflict. The Human Rights Council will discuss the report during its March 2014 session.

Pillay’s report, issued on February 24, concluded the Sri Lankan government has taken no significant steps to implement the recommendations on accountability of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. She found that the Sri Lankan government’s failure to undertake a credible national process to address serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law “can no longer be explained as a function of time or technical capacity, but that it is fundamentally a question of political will.” As a result the “international community has a duty to take further steps… to achieve justice, accountability and redress.”

“The Sri Lankan government has refused to address its role in the deaths of tens of thousands at the end of the country’s brutal civil war,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The high commissioner’s report sends a strong message that only an independent international inquiry can bring justice to the victims of Sri Lanka’s wartime abuses.”

The high commissioner’s report identifies a long list of past and ongoing violations of human rights. Abuses that were regularly reported during the war, including extrajudicial killings and clampdowns on freedom of expression and association continue.

Preventive detention laws, which were used during the conflict, remain in place. While the government has created various initiatives and mechanisms on enforced disappearances, “none of these have the independence to be effective or to inspire confidence among victims and witnesses,” writes Pillay. She also expressed concern that nongovernmental organizations were still required to register and report to the Defense Ministry, and that women remained vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence in areas where there is a heavy military presence.

The report also points out that senior members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have yet to be brought to justice for war crimes. Former leaders of the LTTE, such as Vinagayamurthi Muralitharan (known as Colonel Karuna) and Kumaran Pathmanathan (known as KP), have been rewarded by the government for switching sides rather than having to answer for many credible allegations of serious abuses, including the widespread use of children in their forces, which Human Rights Watch has previously documented and sought accountability for.

“The bottom line is that Sri Lanka has repeatedly refused to undertake investigations into crimes committed by its own forces, so it will be up to members of the UN Human Rights Council to take decisive action at the coming March session,” Adams said.

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