OHCHR evidence preservation body for Lanka fleshed out in Geneva
Establishing a dedicated capacity at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to collect and preserve evidence about grave rights violations in Sri Lanka will cost an estimated $ 2 million, UNHRC member states were informed this week.
If established, the mechanism would support judicial proceedings in other UN member states with jurisdiction to prosecute extra-territorial breaches of international law, bringing perpetrators of grave rights abuses in Sri Lanka one step closer to being indicted and tried overseas.
At the third informal consultation on the Sri Lanka Resolution held virtually on Monday (8), the United Kingdom which is the main sponsor of the draft said that based on initial discussions with the OHCHR, the evidence gathering mechanism would comprise a team of at least six people and require at least $ 2 million for an initial 18-month period of operation.
If the mechanism was mandated to “collect” as well as “analyse, consolidate and preserve evidence” on high profile human rights cases in Sri Lanka in the final draft of the UNHRC resolution, the size of the team could increase to 10, member states were informed during the Informal Session.
Based on discussions between members of the Sri Lanka Core Group and the OHCHR, the team would include several legal officers, analysts, information management specialists and a victim support officer to advice on witness protection issues.
The mechanism would be aimed at establishing a “central information evidence repository” with access to information and testimony to develop strategies for future trials and accountability processes, the Daily FT learns based on Monday’s discussions.
The resolution on Sri Lanka which is still in the final drafting stages calls on the OHCHR currently led by UN Rights Envoy Michelle Bachelet to preserve evidence relating to human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law for future efforts to bring perpetrators to justice or to support prosecutions in other countries under the principle of universal jurisdiction for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The OHCHR-led evidence preservation mechanism for Sri Lanka would be the first of its kind. Similar mechanisms include the International Impartial Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Syria and Myanmar and the OHCHR’s DPRK Accountability Project established for North Korea.
The need to establish the dedicated Sri Lanka mechanism will mean that the resolution on Sri Lanka, if adopted at the end of the 46th Session of the UNHRC will have Programme Budgetary Implications (PBI). The Government of Sri Lanka could use ‘friendly’ states at the Council to seek a vote on that additional funding required to set up the mechanism.
In 2014, when the UNHRC resolution decided to establish an OHCHR-led Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), the Sri Lanka Government then led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa attempted to block funding for the probe in Geneva and New York.
The inclusion of the OHCHR-led evidence collection mechanism in the draft resolution stems from Bachelet’s statement to the 47-member UN Human Rights Council which is presently in session, that the Sri Lankan Government had “closed the door” to justice domestically.
The High Commissioner’s report detailed the Government’s erosion of rights and democracy in the island 12 years after the end of the civil war. Bachelet’s report said the Government of Sri Lanka was obstructing justice for major rights violations the UN has called ‘emblematic’ by jailing investigators, intimidating witnesses, and appointing a presidential commission of inquiry that has declared military officials on trial for murder and abduction in several key cases victims of political persecution.
What Bachelet has called the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka has sparked fears that evidence gathered in the investigation of human rights cases so far could be suppressed or lost.
At the Interactive Dialogue on Bachelet’s report on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC last month, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif said that the Sri Lanka evidence collection mechanism would need “specialised resources” to analyse material and the technological capability to store and process large volumes of information.
The Deputy High Commissioner said that the OHCHR already had a huge amount of material, documentation and evidence accumulated over the years. This material had to be brought together and securely preserved in one place where it could be made available, she said. “This is a significant and complex task that would require resources,” Al-Nashif noted during the dialogue on 24 February.