UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has vowed to support judicial proceedings in other countries against perpetrators of grave human rights violations in Sri Lanka, after the Government had effectively closed the door to achieving justice locally for alleged war time abuses.
In her statement to the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council yesterday, High Commissioner Bachelet said her office would support judicial measures in outside jurisdictions because the Sri Lankan Government had “closed the door” to justice for grave rights abuses nationally.
“By repeatedly failing to advance accountability for past human rights violations committed, and by withdrawing its support for the Council’s resolution 30/1 and related measures, the Government has largely closed the door on the possibility of genuine progress to end impunity through a national process,” the UN Rights Chief told the 47-member Council.
In her report to the Council released on 9 February, Bachelet called on member states of the UN to pursue justice against Sri Lankan perpetrators of human rights violations by using universal or extra-territorial jurisdiction to provide redress to victims of abuses during Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war. The Government of Sri Lanka has rejected the High Commissioner’s Report.
The prospect poses grave risks overseas for senior military officials in the ruling administration the UN claims have been party to violations of international humanitarian law. In a landmark ruling earlier this year a top German court ruled that foreign military officials can be tried for war crimes in Germany. Last year, a German court convicted a Tamil accused of conspiring to kill former Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar by tipping the LTTE off to the Minister’s whereabouts.
The High Commissioner reiterated her call that there were clear warning signs that past patterns of violations could recur in Sri Lanka. “The Government of Sri Lanka had obstructed investigations and judicial proceedings into emblematic human rights cases,” she asserted.
Bachelet also criticised the latest Commission of Inquiry appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to review the findings of previous commissions, saying it promised to repeat the cycle of Government obstruction and failure to credibly pursue truth and justice.
Bachelet, a former President of Chile and survivor of torture under the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, reiterated her call for the Council to support a dedicated capacity to collect and preserve evidence and information for future accountability.
The draft resolution on Sri Lanka submitted to the UNHRC secretariat on Monday by the United Kingdom, already includes a call for a mechanism led by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to ‘collect, preserve and analyse’ evidence pertaining to violations in Sri Lanka. The recommendation follows mounting fears that evidence collected by investigators who probed crimes the UN has called ‘emblematic cases’ could be suppressed or destroyed.
“This is a key juncture for the Council’s engagement with Sri Lanka,” the High Commissioner noted.
Like its predecessor, the current Government had failed to pursue genuine truth-seeking or accountability processes, Bachelet said.
She added: “The impact on thousands of survivors, from all communities, is devastating. Moreover, the systems, structures, policies and personnel that gave rise to such grave violations in the past remain – and have recently been reinforced.”