UN human rights chief presses for investigation into alleged abuses in Sri Lanka war

High Commissionner for Human Rights Navi Pillay addresses the 25th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

26 March 2014 – Stressing the need to ensure justice and accountability, the United Nations human rights chief today called for the establishment of an independent and credible investigation into alleged violations committed in 2009 during the final phase of the conflict in Sri Lanka.

“This is essential to advance the right to truth for all in Sri Lanka and create further opportunities for justice, accountability and redress,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in her address to the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council, which wraps up this Friday in Geneva.

The Sri Lankan Government declared victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009, after a conflict that had raged on and off for nearly three decades and killed thousands of people. The final months of the conflict had generated concerns about alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

The 47-member Council is expected to take action during its current session on a draft resolution on the establishment of an inquiry into the alleged violations.

“Almost five years since the end of the conflict, it is important for the Human Rights Council to recall the magnitude and gravity of the violations alleged to have been committed at that time by the Government and the LTTE, which left thousands of civilians killed, injured or missing,” said Ms. Pillay.

She noted that in recent years, the Government has established various mechanisms with the task to investigate past violations. “But none have had the independence to be effective or inspire confidence among victims and witnesses,” she stated.

At the same time, new evidence continues to emerge, and witnesses are willing to come forward to testify before international mechanisms in which they have confidence and which can guarantee their protection, the High Commissioner added.

“This shows that an international inquiry is not only warranted, but also possible, and can play a positive role in eliciting new information and establishing the truth where domestic inquiry mechanisms have failed.”

Ms. Pillay also reported that the Government has not responded positively to the repeated offers from her office (OHCHR) of technical assistance on specific elements that could advance the accountability and reconciliation agenda.

The High Commissioner said she is also “disturbed” by the continued harassment and intimidation targeting human rights defenders in Sri Lanka, even while the Council’s session has been underway, including the detention last week of two prominent non-governmental organization activists undertaking human rights work.

“We welcome their release. We are, however, concerned at their continued surveillance and the restrictions under which they have been placed,” she stated.

The Council has in the past called on the Sri Lankan Government to take credible steps to ensure accountability for alleged serious violations committed during the final months of the conflict.

A three-member panel of experts – established to advise the UN Secretary-General on accountability issues during the civil war – found there were credible reports that both Government forces and the LTTE committed war crimes during that period. It recommended that the Government respond to the allegations by initiating an effective accountability process starting with genuine investigations.


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