The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said today that he was convinced that international participation in the accountability mechanisms would be a necessary guarantee for the independence and impartiality of the investigation process in the eyes of victims, as Sri Lanka’s judicial institutions currently lack the credibility needed to gain their trust.
Presenting an oral update on Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) during the 32nd session of the UNHRC in Geneva, he said it was also important to keep in mind the magnitude and complexity of the international crimes alleged to have been committed, which the OHCHR investigation found could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“A key question remains the participation of international judges, prosecutors, investigators and lawyers in the judicial mechanism. In late May 2016, while addressing a large group of senior military officers, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was reported to have again ruled out international participation in a domestic mechanism. The High Commissioner said he was convinced that international participation in the accountability mechanisms would be a necessary guarantee for the independence and impartiality of the process in the eyes of victims, as Sri Lanka’s judicial institutions currently lack the credibility needed to gain their trust,” he said.
The High Commissioner welcomed the Government of Sri Lanka’s (GOSL) very positive and productive engagement with the United Nations human rights mechanisms, including the standing invitation issued by Sri Lanka to all Special Procedures in December 2015.
He said the full promise of governance reform, transitional justice and economic revival had yet to be delivered and risks stalling or dissipating despite the promise of the National Unity Government to create a political environment conducive to reforms and added that negotiating party politics and power sharing within the coalition had proved complex as the Government seeks to build and retain the two-thirds majority in parliament necessary to reform the Constitution.
He said significant momentum had been achieved in the process of constitutional reform and that the constitutional reform process presented an important opportunity to rectify structural deficiencies that contributed to human rights violations and abuses in the past and reinforce guarantees of non-recurrence.
The High Commissioner also said the Government had also continued to take some important symbolic steps towards promoting reconciliation including the de-listing of a number of Tamil diaspora organisations and individuals who had been proscribed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), singing the national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil on Independence Day and replacing the previously hubristic military celebrations of the 2009 victory by a more understated Remembrance Day.
He criticized the fact that the Government had also not moved fast enough with other tangible measures that would help to build confidence among victims and minority communities.
The High Commissioner strongly urged the Government to review and amend the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act of 2015 in order to incorporate better safeguards for the independence and effectiveness of the victim and witness protection programme in line with international standards.