- SL rejects calls for setting up an international judicial mechanism to probe alleged human rights violations
- SL has explained the constitutional and legal challenges that precludes it from including non-citizens in its judicial processes.
- if non-citizen judges are to be appointed, it will not be possible without an amendment to the Constitution
- There are no proven allegations against individuals on war crimes and it is an injustice to deprive any serving or retired officer of their rights.
Sri Lanka yesterday rejected UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s proposals to establish an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Sri Lanka and calling on it to implement a detailed and comprehensive strategy for the transitional process with a ‘fixed time-line’.
“We are all eager to see progress. However, pressing for time bound benchmarks to show quick results on decades old, sensitive and complex issues, is bound for failure,” Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana said in a statement to the 40th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Sri Lanka also rejected calls for setting up an international judicial mechanism to probe alleged human rights violations during the final phase of the war, claiming that non-citizen judges are not allowed to operate here according to the country’s Constitution.
He also said that as a sovereign state, Sri Lanka must set its priorities in addressing the well-being and sustainable peace for her people. Various historical, cultural, and religious sensitivities therefore need to be managed while pursuing the ultimate objective of upholding and protecting human rights. “In developing these transitional justice mechanisms, Sri Lanka does not believe there is justification for the setting up of an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka,” the minister said.
“At the outset we thank you for the acknowledgement throughout your report, of the open, constructive and cooperative approach adopted by the Government towards all stakeholders.”
As I pointed out in the Sri Lanka Parliament on March 14, 2019, I would like to emphasize that the data reflected in the High Commissioner’s report in para 35, that only 75% of the land occupied by the security forces as at 2009 has been released, is at significant variance with the actual numbers. As at March 2019, 88.87% of State lands and 92.16% of private lands have been released.
As for the “mass graves” in Mannar referred to in para 23 of the High Commissioner’s Report, test results obtained from a USA laboratory have revealed that the said skeletal remains date back to 1499-1719 AD - a period when Sri Lanka was largely under European colonial rule, the report presupposes “other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future.” An assumption of this nature in a public report on a matter of this magnitude and seriousness is not acceptable and may even cast a doubt as regards to other assertions in the report.
In referring to para 68 (C) of the OHCHR Report (A/HRC/40/23), which calls for legislation establishing a hybrid court, I wish to make it clear that our position on this matter is as follows:
The Government of Sri Lanka at the highest political levels, has both publicly and in discussions with the present and former High Commissioners for Human Rights and other interlocutors, explained the constitutional and legal challenges that precludes it from including non-citizens in its judicial processes. It has been explained that if non-citizen judges are to be appointed in such a process, it will not be possible without an amendment to the Constitution by 2/3 of members of the Parliament voting in favour and also the approval of the people at a Referendum.
At a time when the world is confronted with increasing acts of terrorism and violent extremism, as I stated before this Council last year, the action by the Sri Lankan security forces during the conflict was against a group designated as a terrorist organization by many countries and not against any community. Further, it must be asserted that there are no proven allegations against individuals on war crimes or crimes against humanity in the OISL report of 2015 or in any subsequent official document. It is an injustice to deprive any serving or retired officer of the Sri Lankan security forces or the police of their rights.
These assertions remain in direct contradiction to independent assessments sent by Colombo-based foreign missions, UN agencies as well as other international organizations, including the ICRC – some heavily redacted accounts of which have been presented not only in the House of Lords in the UK on October 12, 2017, but also in writings by academics and journalists which are found in the public domain. Madam High Commissioner, given this backdrop, while countries including the co-sponsors acknowledge these ground realities in conversations, these incongruities should be corrected in letter as well, Sri Lanka should be encouraged and assisted in finding innovative and viable local mechanisms and processes which incorporates international best practices, particularly at a time, as recently demonstrated during the political developments in late 2018, our judicial, public service and defence institutions have demonstrated independence, resilience, robustness and resolve. It is only then, that we will be able to bring closure to these events, which would “enjoy the confidence of victims and society at large”, as referred to in the High Commissioner’s Report.