Friday, 11 September 2015

Peace with Justice

"mass atrocity crimes did happen in Sri Lanka, 
there was moral default all around, 
and if we do not learn from this past, 
we will indeed be condemned to repeat it."
Gareth Evans
primary architect of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

The call for an independent international investigation on the alleged crimes against humanity committed by both the Sri Lankan Armed forces and the Tamil Tigers are not meant to dig the past. It is a call for us to find out what really happened and who is responsible for this human calamity so that we can reconcile with the past and move forward.

 It is a natural human desire to find out who committed the crime against our brethren. It is a natural human response to deliver justice to the victims of any crime, let alone a war crime. It is also intended to put an end to the culture of impunity in the country.

On the 23rd of May 2009, five days after the last bullet has been fired in the Eelam War, UN Secretary General (UNSG) Ban Ki Moon and Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa issued a joint statement. The very last paragraph of this statement  contained an important clause in relation to the accountability for the alleged war crimes, " The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.  The Government will take measures to address those grievances". This statement provided an opportunity for the Government of Sri Lanka to set up a credible domestic mechanism to investigate the alleged violations and failing that opening the door for an international investigation.

"May 31, 1981.. Jaffna Public Library was burnt by the Sri Lankan security forces in the alleged presence of two cabinet ministers..... No convictions"

In June 2010 amidst growing international condemnation, UNSG appointed a three person expert panel headed by Marzuki Darusman to advise him on the issue of  accountability with regard to any alleged war crimes during the final stages of the Eelam war. 

"July 1983, state sponsored anti Tamil pogrom.. No convictions"

The expert panel published its report on March 31, 2011. The panel found ‘credible allegations’ which, if proven, indicated that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE. The conclusion of the panel was ‘the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to prevent individual dignity during both peace and war’. 

Significantly the panel called on the UNSG to conduct an independent international investigation into the alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by both sides to the conflict. 

"July 9, 1995..St Peter's Church in Navaly was attacked by Sri Lankan airforce killing more than 100 civilians including children.. No convictions" 

Sri Lanka commissioned it own inquiry in May 2010 in the form of Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). LLRC published its report on December 16, 2011 and concluded Sri Lanka military did not deliberately target civilians but the LTTE repeatedly violated international humanitarian law. 

The LLRC report was heavily criticised and dismissed  by international human rights groups, the UN Expert Panel on Accountably in Sri Lanka and Tamil parties due its limited mandate, alleged lack of independence and its failure to meet minimum international standards or offer protection to witnesses. 

"August 5, 2006.. 17 workers of the French based INGO ACF were massacred.. No convictions"

UNSG also instituted an internal investigation headed by Charles Petrie to review on how UN handled the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka. The Petrie report revealed "a grave failure in the UN" and including the withdrawal of UN staff in September 2008 from the war region which removed the 'protection by presence'. 

On March 27, 2014 the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability.

The OHCHR was due to submit its report to the UN Human rights session in March 2015. The submission of the report was postponed to September 2015 on the request of the Sri Lankan government based on undisclosed assurances. UN Human Rights Commissioner Prince Zeid issued a statement in which he stated "I believe that one of the most important duties of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is to act as a strong voice on behalf of victims. I want this report to have the maximum possible impact in ensuring a genuine and credible process of accountability and reconciliation in which the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparations are finally respected.”

In recent works USA which has been the key sponsor for the UNHRC resolutions has softened its stand and has sounded out for a domestic investigation. The regime change in favour of the US administration has engineered this backtracking from the global power. 

An international investigation on the alleged war crimes is critical for the Island of Sri Lanka to move on from its bloody past. It is critical as only an international independent investigation will unearth the truth, the inconvenient truth, on what really happened in the last stages of war which claimed many thousands of lives.  It is critical that it will reveal the fate of the disappeared, bringing closure to many families. It is critical that the long over due justice to the sufferings of the Tamils is delivered laying the foundation for a durable dignified peace in the Island.

Calls for a domestic investigation is opportunistic,disgrace & weak, particularly when two previous UN investigations has called for an international investigation. It is these kind of maneuverings during the last stages of the war the Petrie report labelled as a "grave failure of the UN". Calls for an international investigation is based on the premise that the culture of impunity in the island will come to an end and will lead into an effective reconciliation between the communities. 

Given the history of failed & obstructed domestic human rights inquiries in Sri Lanka, only an Independent international investigation can deliver a "credible process of accountability and reconciliation". 

It is our fervent hope that as the elected representatives of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) will spearhead the call for an international investigation and uphold its election pledge. 

"There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, 
but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." 
Elie Wiesel, Author and Holocaust survivor

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