Mar 22, Geneva: The United Nations expressing concern over Sri Lanka's slow progress in establishing transitional justice mechanisms to address the accountability during the decades-long armed conflict, called for international participation in such mechanisms and a comprehensive strategy to implement the proposals in consensual UN resolution adopted in 2015.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein delivering a statement at the Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner's report on Sri Lanka Wednesday at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva said he is particularly troubled by the Sri Lankan government's reluctance to prosecute security forces.
"The consistent failure to effectively investigate, prosecute and punish serious crimes appears to reflect a broader reluctance or fear to take action against members of the security forces. Combined with a general lack of trust in the impartiality of the justice system regarding past violations, this continuing unwillingness or inability to address impunity reinforces the need for international participation in a judicial mechanism," the High Commissioner said.
He emphasized that the process to be credible, it should include a special counsel, foreign judges and defense lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.
Observing that the design of truth and reparations processes is underway, the High Commissioner said these efforts need to be in consultation with the victims and civil society. "It is important for the country’s future to send the signal that impunity is no longer tolerated," he said.
Welcoming a number of Presidential directives with regard to some aspects of detention, High Commissioner pointed out that however, cases of torture, excessive use of force and failure to respect due process continue to be reported.
"There is clearly a need for unequivocal instructions to all branches of the security forces that any such conduct is unacceptable and that abuses will be punished," he said suggesting to the government to ensure that detainees have unrestricted and prompt access to counsel from the moment of arrest to help mitigate the risk of torture.
The High Commissioner said confidence-building measures must be accelerated as frustration is rising among victims. These include the release of land occupied by the military, which remains slow, repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and replace it with legislation that complies with international human rights law and resolve the numerous pending cases under the PTA.
He also said that it will be essential to effectively operationalize an appropriate vetting procedure - including an independent, civilian human rights component - in advance of any future deployment of military and police personnel to UN peacekeeping missions.
The High Commissioner said he is disturbed to hear reports of intimidation of members of civil society at the session and stressed that the civil society and human rights defenders must be protected from harassment and intimidation. He suggested the Council to pay close attention to the reports.
High Commissioner Hussein urged the Sri Lankan government to regularly consult the independent commissions, and particularly the Human Rights Commission, which have an invaluable role in strengthening good governance. "I encourage respect for their mandate and autonomy, adequate financing, and implementation of their recommendations," he said.
He urged the Government to "embrace and make the broadest possible use" of the recent report of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms, following its inclusive and thoughtful consultations
The High Commissioner emphasized the need of an agreement on a comprehensive strategy, with a time-line and detailed benchmarks, to address all the transitional justice pillars identified in Resolution 30/1, which, was co-sponsored by Sri Lanka.
He said the UNHRC continues to play an important role in accompanying Sri Lanka towards a safer and more stable future in which there is respect for the dignity and rights of all its people.
"At the center of all of this are the victims: there can never be sustainable peace without justice for them<" he said.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights said his office remains committed to continue supporting the Government and people of Sri Lanka on their complex journey towards truth, justice and full accountability.