Government Stands Its Ground
- OHCHR awaits arrival of full team In Geneva
By Easwaran Rutnam
While the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) awaits the arrival of the full team appointed to investigate the war in Sri Lanka in Geneva, the Government has decided not to budge from its original stand and reject visas for the delegation.
External Affairs Ministry sources said that the Government will not succumb to pressure being exerted by some countries to assist the investigation.
The United States and Britain had last week urged the Government to support the probe after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, announced that three experts had been appointed to assist and oversee the investigation on Sri Lanka by a 12 member team.
“Some team members are still to arrive, but the investigation is now effectively underway,” Pillay’s spokesman Rupert Colville told The Sunday Leader.
Pillay announced last week that Martti Ahtisaari, Silvia Cartwright and Asma Jahangir will serve as external experts to the investigation.
Martti Ahtisaari is a former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who has also served as a UN diplomat and mediator and is renowned for his international peace work.
Silvia Cartwright is a former Governor-General and High Court judge of New Zealand, and judge of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia, as well as former member of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Asma Jahangir is a former President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association and of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, previous holder of several Human Rights Council mandates and member of a recent fact-finding body into Israeli settlements.
“I am proud that three such distinguished experts have agreed to assist this important and challenging investigation,” the High Commissioner said after making the announcement. “Each of them brings not only great experience and expertise, but also the highest standards of integrity, independence, impartiality and objectivity to this task.”
The experts will play a supportive and advisory role, providing advice and guidance as well as independent verification throughout the investigation.
The investigation team with whom they will work will consist of 12 staff, including investigators, forensics experts, a gender specialist, a legal analyst and various other staff with specialised skills. It will be operational for a period of 10 months (up to mid-April 2015).
Amnesty International, a leading human rights group in London, on Friday said the investigation is a critically important step towards breaking the cycle of impunity that fuels ongoing and serious human rights violations in Sri Lanka, including attacks on individuals speaking out against abuses and demanding accountability.
Amnesty International said the investigation should pick up where the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka left off in March 2011.The current investigation should deepen that inquiry and strive to identify all those suspected of individual criminal responsibility for the crimes.
In March 2014, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ mandating OHCHR to undertake a comprehensive investigation into serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
The investigation has already received the backing of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with his Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq telling The Sunday Leader in an email that Ban fully understands the challenges and complexity related to post-war processes, and therefore encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to engage constructively with the international community to strengthen the existing domestic processes in a manner that is inclusive and respectful of human rights and to work towards lasting peace in Sri Lanka.
“The Secretary-General supports the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and commends the leadership she has demonstrated to assist Sri Lanka in advancing accountability and reconciliation,” Haq said.
Meanwhile the US and the UK backed the announcement on the appointment of the three experts. Marie Harf, Deputy Spokesperson at the US State Department said last week that the US welcomed the announcement by Pillay on the distinguished experts who will advise the panel conducting the international investigation into the alleged human rights violations and related crimes in Sri Lanka.
“We strongly urge the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate fully with the Office of the High Commissioner and its investigation. We continue to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its obligations to its own people and to take meaningful, concrete steps to address outstanding concerns related to democratic governance, human rights, reconciliation, justice, and accountability. The United States stands ready to assist Sri Lanka in facilitating progress on these issues,” she said.
British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, also welcomed the appointment of a team of experts to investigate alleged abuses in Sri Lanka.
Hague said the investigation is an important step in establishing the truth and facilitating reconciliation within Sri Lanka.
“I welcome Navi Pillay’s announcement on the appointment of experts to the Sri Lanka investigation established by the March Human Rights Council. The UK has always supported calls for this investigation and played a key role in securing it. This investigation is an important step in establishing the truth and facilitating reconciliation within Sri Lanka. The inclusion of Martti Artisaahri, Silvia Cartwright and Asma Jahangir completes a strong team with a clear mandate from the UN Human Rights Council,” he said.
The British Foreign secretary strongly urged the government of Sri Lanka to cooperate fully with the Office of the High Commissioner and the investigation and to ensure those engaging with the investigation can do so without fear of intimidation or reprisals.
“I also continue to urge the government of Sri Lanka to take meaningful, concrete steps to implement fully the actions called for in the March 2014 Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka, the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and to address fully concerns related to political settlement, reconciliation, justice and accountability, both present day and from the period of the armed conflict,” he said.
The British Foreign Secretary said that as ever, the British Government stands ready to assist Sri Lanka in facilitating progress on these issues.
However, the Government said it will not agree to any “unsolicited” assistance to investigate some of the incidents said to have taken place during the war.
The Government had rejected the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts investigation and the resolution at the UN Human Rights Council which called for the investigation led by Pillay’s office.
An External Affairs Ministry source said that the Government wants to continue with the implementation process of the LLRC recommendations, at its own pace.