ICJ: UN Investigation Offers Hope to Victims in Sri Lanka

by International Commission of Jurists, Geneva, March 27, 2014

ICJThe UN Human Rights Council resolution to establish an international investigation into allegations of human rights violations and abuses committed by both sides in Sri Lanka’s civil war gives hope to tens of thousands of victims who continue to be denied truth and justice.

“The resolution sends a strong message to the Government of Sri Lanka that the international community is not willing to turn its back on victims’ pursuit of truth, justice and accountability in Sri Lanka,” said Sheila Varadan, ICJ South Asia Programme Legal Adviser.

The resolution is the third resolution adopted by the Council on Sri Lanka since 2012.

The previous two called on the Government of Sri Lanka to undertake an independent and credible national investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

But almost five years after the end of the civil war, no one has been held accountable for gross human rights violations and abuses or serious violations of international humanitarian law.

The failure at the national level contributed to the decision of the Council to mandate the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to organize an international investigation on behalf of the UN.

“Not only has the Government of Sri Lanka failed to deliver on its repeated promises to ensure accountability, it has actively dismantled the very institutions that could have delivered truth, justice and remedy for such rights violations and abuses,” said Varadan. “The judiciary has been effectively decapitated, and lawyers and judges continue to face intimidation, harassment and threats.”

During negotiations among States on the resolution earlier in the Council session, the ICJ warned diplomats that the Sri Lankan judiciary could no longer be relied upon to function as an impartial and independent institution.

Its judicial appointment process has become highly politicized; judges and lawyers have been subjected to threats, intimidation and physical violence; and the absence of an independent, impartial and fair removal and discipline process has left judges vulnerable to politically motivated attacks.

“Without an impartial and independent judiciary, it is simply not possible to have a credible independent and impartial investigation at the national level, no matter what the Government says,’’ added Varadan.

The need for such a resolution is further underscored by the recent and alarming campaign of reprisals against human rights defenders, victims and their families, and lawyers.  Over the course of the Council session, human rights defenders have been arbitrarily detained and interrogated under abusively invoked counter-terrorism laws; victims and their families have been intimidated and harassed; and lawyers have been targeted in media campaigns inciting public violence.

While the resolution did not fully respond to calls from civil society for the Council directly to establish an international Commission of Inquiry, an investigation led by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has the potential to deliver similarly powerful findings, particularly if the Office fully exercises its mandate to draw on the assistance of independent experts and special procedures with a focus on ensuring accountability, truth and justice.

CONTACT:

Sheila Varadan, ICJ Legal Advisor, South Asia Programme (Bangkok), t: +66 857200723; email: sheila.varadan(a)icj.org

Matt Pollard, ICJ Senior Legal Advisor and UN Representative (Geneva), t: +41 792465475 matt.pollard(a)icj.org

BACKGROUND

The resolution of the Council was adopted by 23 votes in favor, 12 abstentions and 12 against.

The text of the resolution may be downloaded here: Sri Lanka draft resolution 260314

The resolution was co-sponsored by a cross-regional group of at least 41 Council member and observer states, including: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

See also

Oral Statement to the Human Rights Council

Briefing Note on Independence of Judges and Lawyers in Sri Lanka

Open Letter from Judges from around the world condemning impeachment process against Chief Justice Bandaranayake

ICJ report, Crisis of Impunity in Sri Lanka

 

US Official Comments on UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka Secretary of State John Kerry

UN Human Rights Council Vote on Sri Lanka Reconciliation

Press Statement

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 27, 2014


Today’s vote in the UN Human Rights Council sends a clear message: The time to pursue lasting peace and prosperity is now; justice and accountability cannot wait.

This resolution reaffirms the commitment of the international community to support the Government of Sri Lanka as it pursues reconciliation and respect for human rights and democratic governance. That’s why the resolution requests that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights continues monitoring the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. That’s why it calls on the Office to conduct an investigation into allegations of serious human rights abuses and related crimes during Sri Lanka’s civil war. And that’s why the United States will continue speak out in defense of the fundamental freedoms that all Sri Lankans should enjoy.

We are deeply concerned by recent actions against some of Sri Lanka’s citizens, including detentions and harassment of civil society activists. Further reprisals against these brave defenders of human rights and the dignity of all Sri Lankan citizens would elicit grave concern from the international community.

The Sri Lankan people are resilient. They have demonstrated grit and determination through years of war. Now, they are demanding democracy and prosperity in years of peace. They deserve that chance.

The United States stands with all the people of Sri Lanka. We are committed to helping them realize a future in which all Sri Lankans can share in their country’s success.

***

National Security Council

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
March 27, 2014
Statement by NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden on UN Human Rights Council Vote on Sri Lanka
The United States welcomes today’s passage of the UN Human Rights Council resolution on “promoting reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in Sri Lanka, ” which calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to take meaningful action to ensure justice, accountability, and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.  We agree with the resolution’s request for the Office of the High Commissioner to investigate alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties to the conflict and to monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, which has continued to deteriorate.  Today’s resolution sends a message of concern about the present human rights situation in Sri Lanka and the denial of universal rights, and it underscores the importance of fundamental freedoms that must be respected in order to build a future in which all of Sri Lanka’s people can achieve their aspirations.  Today’s vote also sends a clear message that the international community is committed to working with the Government of Sri Lanka to promote greater peace, stability, and prosperity for all of the people of Sri Lanka.

***

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chair, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
WASHINGTON, DC
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 27, 2014
Contact:
Chairman Menendez Statement on UN Human Rights Council Vote on Sri Lanka Reconciliation
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement after the UN Human Rights Council Vote on Sri Lanka Reconciliation:
“I applaud today’s passage of the U.S. co-sponsored resolution at the UN Human Rights Council which called for an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. Accountability is long overdue in Sri Lanka, and I hope that an independent UN investigation will be able to pursue justice, accountability and reconciliation for the grave human rights violations allegedly committed by both sides during Sri Lanka’s civil war.  Earlier this month, I sent a letter to Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressing my support for this resolution and raising concerns about the shrinking space for civil society in Sri Lanka.  I remain very concerned about the deterioration of the environment for journalists, human rights defenders and religious minorities in Sri Lanka and call upon the government to take steps to also address these pressing issues.”
***
Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH), Co-Chair, Congressional Caucus on Religious & Ethnic Freedom in Sri Lanka

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 28, 2014

 

CONTACT: Dan Schneider

202-225-5705

Bill Johnson Statement on U.N. Human Rights Council’s Vote for Sri Lanka Reconciliation

 

WASHINGTON – Congressman Bill Johnson (R-Marietta) released the following statement following the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Council’s vote on Sri Lanka Reconciliation:

“Yesterday’s vote by the U.N. Human Rights Council illustrates the international community’s commitment to the pursuit of peaceful stability in Sri Lanka, and sends a clear message to the Sri Lankan government that the time has come for accountability and reconciliation.  The resolution calls on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue monitoring the current human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and to investigate allegations of human rights violations and war crimes committed by both parties during Sri Lanka’s civil war.  In addition, the resolution requests that the High Commissioner present an update, and submit a comprehensive report to the Human Rights Council during the upcoming 27th and 28th sessions.

“Serving as a co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka, I am committed to raising awareness of the human rights abuses that have occurred in Sri Lanka, the need to hold all sides accountable, and the importance of reconciliation for the Sri Lankan people.  The Caucus recently held a discussion on these human rights violations, featuring guest speaker J.S. Tissainayagam, and a viewing of the documentary “No Fire Zone,” which focuses on the atrocities that occurred during the final months of Sri Lanka’s decade’s long civil war.

“It is my hope that the government of Sri Lanka will take this U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution seriously, and will immediately implement steps towards reconciliation and the restoration of fundamental rights and freedoms that are necessary for the Sri Lankan people to move forward as a peaceful, democratic society.”

 http://billjohnson.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=374574

***

Compilation of reactions from around the world

http://www.tamilguardian.com/article.asp?articleid=10414

 

UNHRC Resolution Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka

by UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, March 27, 2014

UNHRC resolution voting chartHuman Rights Council

Twenty- fifth session

Agenda item 2

Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the
High Commissioner and the Secretary-General

Albania,* Austria, Belgium,* Bulgaria,* Canada,* Croatia,* Cyprus,* Denmark,* Estonia, Finland,* France, Georgia,* Germany, Greece,* Hungary,* Iceland,* Ireland, Italy, Latvia,* Liechtenstein,* Lithuania,* Luxembourg,* Mauritius,* Montenegro, Netherlands,* Norway,* Poland,* Portugal,* Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis,* Sierra Leone, Slovakia,* Spain,* Sweden,* Switzerland,* the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America: draft resolution

25/…  Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka

       The Human Rights Council,

Reaffirming the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

Guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights and other relevant instruments,

Bearing in mind General Assembly resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006,

Recalling Human Rights Council resolutions 5/1, on institution-building of the Council, and 5/2, on the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures Mandate Holders, of 18 June 2007,

Recalling also Human Rights Council resolutions 19/2 of 22 March 2012 and 22/1 of 21 March 2013 on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka,

Reaffirming its commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka,

Reaffirming also that it is the responsibility of each State to ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of its entire population,



                                *    Non-MemberState of the Human Rights Council.

Reaffirming further that States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, as applicable,

Reaffirming that all Sri Lankans are entitled to the full enjoyment of their human rights regardless of religion, belief or ethnicity, in a peaceful and unified land,

Welcoming and acknowledging the progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka in rebuilding infrastructure, demining and resettling the majority of internally displaced persons, while noting nonetheless that considerable work lies ahead in the areas of justice, reconciliation, land use and ownership, the resumption of livelihoods and the restoration of normality to civilian life, and stressing the importance of the full participation of local populations, including representatives of civil society and minorities, in these efforts,

Welcoming the successful holding of Provincial Council elections on 21 September 2013 and, in particular, the high turnout and participation in all three provinces, while noting with concern reports of election-related violence, as well as of voter and candidate intimidation,

Expressing appreciation for the efforts and cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka in facilitating the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and providing her with open access, and welcoming the visit of the High Commissioner to Sri Lanka in August 2013,

Expressing deep concern at reported intimidation and retaliation against civil society members who engage with United Nations human rights mechanisms, including those who met with the High Commissioner during her visit,

Expressing serious concern at the continuing reports of violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, including sexual and gender-based violence, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, threats to judicial independence and the rule of law, as well as intimidation of and reprisals against human rights defenders, members of civil society, lawyers and journalists,

Alarmed at the significant surge in attacks against members of religious minority groups in Sri Lanka, including Hindus, Muslims and Christians,

Calling upon the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its public commitments, including on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population,

Taking note of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of Sri Lanka, its findings and recommendations, and acknowledging its possible contribution to the process of meaningful national reconciliation in Sri Lanka,

Recalling the constructive recommendations contained in the Commission’s report, including the need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, demilitarize the north of Sri Lanka, implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, re-evaluate detention policies, strengthen formerly independent civil institutions, reach a political settlement on the devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right of freedom of expression for all persons and enact rule of law reforms,

Taking note of the national plan of action to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of the Government of Sri Lanka and its commitments as set forth in response to the findings and recommendations of the Commission,

Noting that the national plan of action does not adequately address all of the findings and constructive recommendations of the Commission, and encouraging the Government of Sri Lanka to broaden the scope of the plan to adequately address all elements of the Commission’s report,

Noting with concern that the national plan of action and the Commission’s report do not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,

Emphasizing the importance of a comprehensive approach to transitional justice incorporating the full range of judicial and non-judicial measures, including, inter alia, individual prosecutions, reparations, truth-seeking, institutional reform, vetting of public employees and officials, or an appropriately conceived combination thereof, in order to, inter alia, ensure accountability, serve justice, provide remedies to victims, promote healing and reconciliation, establish independent oversight of the security system, restore confidence in the institutions of the State and promote the rule of law in accordance with international human rights law, with a view to preventing the recurrence of violations and abuses,

Underlining that truth-seeking processes, such as truth and reconciliation commissions, that investigate patterns of past human rights violations and their causes and consequences are important tools that can complement judicial processes, and that, when established, such mechanisms have to be designed within a specific societal context and be founded on broad national consultations with the inclusion of victims and civil society, including non-governmental organizations,

Recalling the responsibility of States to comply with their relevant obligations to prosecute those responsible for gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law constituting crimes under international law, with a view to end impunity,

Recalling also the High Commissioner’s conclusion that national mechanisms have consistently failed to establish the truth and to achieve justice, and her recommendation that the Human Rights Council establish an international inquiry mechanism to further investigate the alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law and monitor any domestic accountability processes,

Encouraging the Government of Sri Lanka to increase its dialogue and cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner, including with regard to technical assistance,

1.       Welcomes the oral update presented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-fourth session[1] and the subsequent report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka[2] and the recommendations and conclusions contained therein, including on the establishment of a truth-seeking mechanism and national reparations policy as an integral part of a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to transitional justice;

2.             Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable; to hold accountable those responsible for such violations; to end continuing incidents of human rights violations and abuses in Sri



                     [1]   See A/HRC/24/CRP.3/Rev.1.

                     [2]   A/HRC/25/23.

Lanka; and to implement the recommendations made in the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner;

3.       Reiterates its call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to implement effectively the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to take all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans;

4.       Urges the Government of Sri Lanka to investigate all alleged attacks, by individuals and groups, on journalists, human rights defenders, members of religious minority groups and other members of civil society, as well as on temples, mosques and churches, and also urges the Government to hold perpetrators of such attacks to account and to take steps to prevent such attacks in the future;

5.       Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to release publicly the results of its investigations into alleged violations by security forces, including the attack on unarmed protesters in Weliweriya on 1 August 2013, and the report of 2013 by the court of inquiry of the Sri Lanka Army;

6.       Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that all Provincial Councils, including the Northern Provincial Council, are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka;

7.       Welcomes the visit by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons in December 2013, and calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to facilitate the effective implementation of durable solutions for internally displaced persons, including the long-term displaced;

8.       Also welcomes the invitation to the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education;

9.             Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate with other special procedures mandate holders and to respond formally to their outstanding requests, including long-standing requests;

10.     Takes note of the recommendations and conclusions of the High Commissioner regarding ongoing human rights violations and the need for an international inquiry mechanism in the absence of a credible national process with tangible results, and requests the Office of the High Commissioner:

(a)     To monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and to continue to assess progress on relevant national processes;

(b)     To undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, 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, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders;

(c)      To present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-seventh session, and a comprehensive report followed by a discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its twenty-eighth session;

11.     Encourages the Office of the High Commissioner and relevant special procedures mandate holders to provide, in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Government of Sri Lanka, advice and technical assistance on implementing the above-mentioned steps;

12.     Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner in the implementation of the present resolution.

The following 23 Countries voted for the Resolution
Argentina
Austria
Benin
Botswana 
Brazil
Chile
Costa Rica
Cote d’Ivoire
Czech Republic
Estonia
France
Germany
Ireland
Italy
Macedonia
Mexico 
Montenegro
Peru
Republic of Korea 
Romania
Sierra Leone
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
United States of America
 .
The following 12 Countries Voted Against the Resolution
Algeria
China
Congo
Cuba
Kenya
Maldives
Pakistan
Russian Federation
Saudi Arabia
United Arab Emirates
Venezuela
Vietnam
The following 12 Countries Abstained from Voting

Burkina Faso
Ethiopia
Gabon 
India
Indonesia
Japan
Kazakhstan
Kuwait
Morocco
Namibia
Philippines
South Africa

Why a UN Probe of Sri Lanka Would Spark New Hope for Reconciliation

by Marzuki Darusman, Steven Ratner, and Yasmin Sooka, ‘The Globe and Mail,’ Canada, March 25, 2014

Five years ago, Sri Lanka’s civil war reached a bloody conclusion on a stretch of beach in the island’s northeast, as government forces pummeled the remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and thousands of Tamil civilians trapped near them. The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, flush with triumphalist fever, insisted it had done no wrong during that fateful campaign. But the survivors told a different tale. Indeed, tens of thousands may have perished during the last phase of the war.

Three years ago, the three of us, appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to cull the evidence and advise him on holding both sides accountable for those atrocities, recommended that the Sri Lankan government investigate war crimes and that the UN step in with its own international investigation if the government failed to do so. While our report garnered support within Sri Lankan civil society and abroad, the government rejected it as a sort of plot by LTTE sympathizers. In a clear sign of international frustration with the government, the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva urged Sri Lanka in both 2012 and 2013 to investigate the events at the end of the war. The UN’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, visited the country last year, telling Mr. Rajapaksa that an investigation was long overdue. This year, with no further progress, she too called for an international investigation.

Meanwhile, the human rights situation continues to deteriorate, as opponents and journalists disappear, the Tamil areas in the north remain highly militarized, survivors live in fear, and many missing from the war remain unaccounted for. Last year, the government engineered the removal of the supreme court chief justice, silencing a rare independent voice. The peace in Sri Lanka about which the government brags is based on conquest and fear. It could not be more the opposite of the peace based on truth, justice, and reconciliation that Nelson Mandela insisted upon for South Africa; and the fate of those two states could also not be more divergent.

This week, the Human Rights Council will vote on a resolution submitted by the United States and other states that would ask Ms. Pillay to conduct a UN investigation of alleged rights violations by the government and the LTTE.

While not as formal as a freestanding commission of inquiry like that for Syria, this mechanism could finally provide the independent investigation that is long overdue. It will need a budget and staff sufficient to the challenge of investigating the events of 2009.

Sri Lanka has deployed its diplomats worldwide to try to persuade the developing states on the Council that an investigation by the UN is an attack on Sri Lankan sovereignty. But Sri Lanka has agreed to all the human rights standards that the UN investigation will apply. And a UN inquiry will ascertain the facts without prejudice.

Members of the Council should give the UN investigation not only their vote, but the financial support it will need to carry out a careful inquiry. With such a record, the denial by the government and LTTE sympathizers can finally be addressed, and the task of justice for Sri Lanka’s victims can enter a new stage.

Marzuki Darusman is a former attorney-general of Indonesia. Steven Ratner is a law professor at the University of Michigan. Yasmin Sooka is the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa. They served as the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka in 2010-11.

Facing a War Crimes Inquiry, Sri Lanka Continues to Vex the U.N.

by Somini Sengupta, ‘The New York Times,’ March 26, 2014

UNITED NATIONS — What to do with Sri Lanka? The island nation, triumphant after nearly three decades of war against ethnic separatists, has vexed the United Nations.

Five years after the war’s brutal ending, the world body has been unable to address grave human rights violations committed by the warring parties, making Sri Lanka something of an object lesson in the difficulties of pursuing accountability.

The United Nations’ own conduct during the war led to a change in doctrine: The secretary general late last year ordered United Nations officials not to stay silent in the face of rights violations, as they had in Sri Lanka in 2009.

Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka holding prayers in the capital, Colombo, seeking the defeat of a vote for a United Nations inquiry.CreditLakruwan Wanniarachchi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Special envoys were appointed, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Sri Lanka to seek accountability; both gestures were rebuffed. Now comes the sharpest measure yet: The United Nations Human Rights Council is due to vote Thursday morning in Geneva on whether to order an independent international investigation into possible war crimes, including executions, rape and torture.

The draft resolution calls for the United Nations human rights office to monitor Sri Lanka and “undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations of human rights and related crimes by both parties.”

The high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, supports an investigation. She has said Sri Lanka’s own inquiries have “consistently failed to establish the truth and achieve justice.”

The vote by the 47-member council will most likely be close. Iran and Zimbabwe praised Sri Lanka’s postwar reconciliation efforts, while China commended its “promotion and protection of human rights.” The United States, which co-sponsored the resolution, pointed to continued harassment of journalists and members of civil society, “including reprisals against those who meet with visiting diplomats and U.N. officials.” India, whose vote will be closely watched, chose not to address the council on Wednesday.

A defeat of the resolution would be “devastating,” said Julie de Rivero, the Geneva-based advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “It would really call into question the council’s effectiveness.”

The effect of the vote on the ground remains unclear — the government is unlikely to cooperate with monitors. President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka made his displeasure clear this week while campaigning for provincial elections that are due to be held this weekend. “I don’t care if we win or lose in Geneva,” he said. “I don’t give a pittance. I know the people here will ensure our victory.”

Indeed, the government enjoys enormous public support among the majority ethnic Sinhalese for its May 2009 military victory against the rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Mr. Rajapaksa is likely to use any international investigation to his advantage.

One reason the United Nations has found it difficult to bring about accountability, even long after the end of a gruesome war, is that the rebels were members of a widely despised, brutal insurgency that was deemed a terrorist organization by many countries in the aftermath of the attacks of Sept. 11. The Sri Lankan government deftly leveraged international support to crush the rebels.

The difficulty equally reflects political pressures that have nothing to do with Sri Lanka. India, for instance, has a large and influential ethnic Tamil population, and its leaders can hardly afford to alienate them ahead of India’s parliamentary elections, due to start next month. Nor can it ignore Sri Lanka’s ever-growing ties with China.

The war in Sri Lanka has roiled the United Nations. It had a large presence in the country during the last few months of the war, when up to 40,000 people are believed to have been killed, but was notably silent about the scale of killings. In an internal review, the United Nations described its silence as “a grave failure,” taking to task officials who “did not perceive the prevention of killing of civilians as their responsibility.”

That internal review led to a stark shift in policy, called“rights up front.” United Nations officials in the field are now under orders to report rights violations, and senior officials here are to engage in what Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson called “quiet diplomacy” or, if necessary, raise the violations with the Security Council.

The Security Council also did not pay close attention to rights abuses in a conflict that sought to stamp out the Tamil Tigers. “It was clear member states didn’t want to be told,” said Ian Martin, a former senior United Nations official.

He added that there was slim chance of punishing perpetrators now, without the government’s cooperation. “It’s one step further to a definitive account,” he said. “Truth is, there’s not going to be accountability.”

Ms. Pillay, in a report published in late February, pointed to abiding problems, including “continued militarization and compulsory land acquisition,” along with “shrinking space for civil society and the media, rising religious intolerance and the undermining of independent institutions, including the judiciary.” Mr. Rajapaksa sacked the country’s chief justice in January of last year.

Previous investigations have found that tens of thousands were killed in the final months of the war and that hospitals were bombed, in violation of international law. The latest international report, issued last week by a South African human rights lawyer, documented 40 cases in which suspected Tamil Tigers supporters were abducted, tortured and sexually abused by members of the Sri Lankan military.

Mr. Rajapaksa’s administration has consistently denounced international human rights inquiries as a breach of the country’s sovereignty and an unfair targeting of his country. In the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, Buddhist monks and Hindu priests held all-night prayers on Monday, while on Wednesday about 2,000 pro-government Muslim protesters marched to the United States Embassy.

In the days leading up to the Geneva vote, Sri Lanka’s actions have drawn new outside scrutiny. It briefly detained two human rights advocates for questioning last week. Over the weekend, the police rounded up 300 Tamil youths for questioning in the still heavily militarized Jaffna peninsula in the country’s north. Maj. Gen. Udaya Perera, a northern area commander, said the heightened security checks were a “precaution” as the police stepped up the search for a rebel operative.

The chief minister from Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, C. V. Wigneswaran, an ethnic Tamil, has said he fears that the resolution, if passed, could spark a fiercer military crackdown. “We are worried the army might go berserk once the decision is made in Geneva,” he said.

A former Sri Lankan diplomat, Dayan Jayatilleka, described the country’s predicament as being caught between the United Nations campaign for accountability and Indian political imperatives.

Mr. Jayatilleka wrote in an opinion article for The Colombo Telegraph that “the Rajapaksa administration will owe a significant slice of its election victory this time around to the ill-targeted Geneva resolution.”

Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva, and Dharisha Bastians from Colombo, Sri Lanka.

An Unfinished War

Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka, 2009 – 2014

The report’s authors say its evidence must urgently be referred to an International Criminal Court or an international tribunal. They call on the United Nations Secretary General to establish an international inquiry to investigate and prosecute violations by Sri Lankan security force members.

by ‘Colombo Telegraph,’ March 21, 2014

Unfinished War Torture Sexual Violence 2009 – 2014 STOP_report

Brutal Tactics of Post-War Sri Lanka Revealed in New Investigation

A new report named “An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka, 2009 – 2014″ published today details evidence of ongoing sexual violence and torture in Sri Lanka – some as recent as February 2014 – from international human rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) and The International Truth & Justice Project, Sri Lanka.

 Yasmin SookaIn a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he says that the report “gives the lie to the Sri Lankan government’s propaganda that it is reconciling with its former enemies.”

The report’s authors say its evidence must urgently be referred to an International Criminal Court or an international tribunal. They call on the United Nations Secretary General to establish an international inquiry to investigate and prosecute violations by Sri Lankan security force members.

They also urge the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the Special Rapporteur on Torture to arrange a visit to Sri Lanka and initiate a special inquiry into rape and sexual violence.

The report launch event will be held at the Canadian High Commission in Central London today at 10 am – 12 noon and it will be chaired by Geoffrey Robertson QC.

Read the full report here

——————————————

Executive Summary
This report paints a chilling picture of the continuation of the war in Sri Lanka against ethnic
Tamils, five years after the guns went silent.

The findings are:
• Abduction, arbitrary detention, torture, rape and sexual violence have increased in
the post-war period. Targeted for these violations are LTTE suspects, or those
perceived as having been connected to, or supporters of, the LTTE. The purported aim
is to extract confessions and/or information about the LTTE and to punish them for
any involvement with the organisation.
• These widespread and systematic violations by the Sri Lankan security forces occur in
a manner that indicates a coordinated, systematic plan approved by the highest
levels of government. Members of the Sri Lankan security forces are secure in the
knowledge that no action will be taken against them.
• This report establises a prima facie case of post-war crimes against humanity
by the Sri Lankan security forces, with respect to (a) torture and (b) rape and
sexual violence.

HRW Dispatches: Silencing Sri Lanka’s Rights Advocates

by Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch, March 18, 2014

Unlike many activists who are ground down by the challenges of taking on a powerful state, Ruki Fernando has never lost the ability to laugh out loud at the sheer absurdity of the Sri Lankan government’s graceless efforts to dodge accountability for abuses.  That includes its public campaign to deny any responsibility for war crimes during its defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in early 2009.

While I have never met Father Praveen, I do know of his painstaking efforts to assist families and victims of human rights abuses, documenting cases, enabling people to demand answers.

The authorities have now detained both men without charges under Sri Lanka’s notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act.  The police Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) picked them up after they sought to ensure the welfare of 13-year-old Balendran Vithushaini, who had been ordered into probationary care following the arrest of her mother, Balendran Jeyakumari, on March 13.  Both mother and daughter have publicly protested enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

There’s a grim irony in the timing of the arrests that come just as a resolution on Sri Lanka’s failure to address accountability is under discussion and will be voted on soon at the ongoing United Nations Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva.  In spite of council resolutions in 2012 and 2013, Sri Lanka has taken no meaningful steps towards ensuring justice for the victims of abuses during its civil war, and has instead launched an aggressive campaign against those Sri Lankans who advocate for accountability.  Human rights defenders, activists, journalists, and civil society members who are critical of the government have regularly been threatened and harassed.  Those who have an international profile, such as Fernando, face particular government hostility.

In his statement at the Human Rights Council on March 5, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, G.L. Peiris, made specific mention of Sri Lanka’s “vibrant” civil society and the “freedoms they enjoy.”  Perhaps Fernando would have laughed that the government had exposed its insincerity by the outrageous arrest of two prominent human rights defenders days after this comment, and while the resolution is still to come to a vote.

Human Rights Council members should demand the immediate release of Fernando and Father Praveen and be clear that this will not deter them from adopting a resolution on Sri Lanka to promote accountability for war crimes.  The arrest of these human rights defenders shows just how important it is for countries around the world to stand up for human rights in Sri Lanka.

CPA: Statement on Arbitrary Detention of Human Rights Defenders

by Centre for Policy Alternatives, Colombo, March 18, 2014

CPA has repeatedly called on the Government to repeal, if not amend the PTA so as to bring its provisions in line with Sri Lanka’s own constitutional standards of fundamental rights as well as its international obligations, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The PTA gives wide discretionary powers to law enforcement authorities on matters relating to detention and admission of confessions, providing little or no safeguards against abuses of power. It also provides for vague and loosely defined offences with heavy penalties that are inconsistent with general principles of criminal liability. The Act was initially conceived as a temporary measure to respond to extraordinary security challenges faced by the State in 1979. However, the draconian provisions of the Act have been regularised over time and have often been used to punish perceived opponents of the Government in power. Furthermore, the PTA’s continued existence in post-war Sri Lanka runs contrary to the narrative of peace and stability the Government projects both within and outside Sri Lanka.

Centre for Policy AlternativesThe Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is deeply concerned by the arrest and detention last week of several individuals in the North and East, including Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). CPA condemns these attempts by the Government of Sri Lanka to silence critics and supress legitimate civil society activity. We call for the immediate release of all activists including Balendran Jeyakumari, Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan.

Balendran Jeyakumari was arrested in Kilinochchi on 13th March 2014, allegedly for aiding and abetting an ex-LTTE cadre who was fleeing after shooting a police officer in Kilinochchi. Ms. Jeyakumari’s 13 year old daughter was also detained although the police media spokesperson later stated that she was handed over to the department of child-care and probation. Ms. Jeyakumari, is reported to be detained in the Boossa detention centre, which is located hundreds of miles away from her family, especially her young daughter. Ms. Jeyakumari has lost two sons to the war and is in search of her third son who allegedly surrendered to the Government forces at the end of the war in 2009. Five years on, she continues her search at the forefront of a large number of families searching for their disappeared family members. CPA is also concerned about the recent detention of several others involved in the search for disappeared family members.

On 16th March 2014, two prominent HRDs were arrested in Kilinochchi. Although the police initially denied arresting Mr Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan, it was later reported that a special team fromthe Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) had made the arrest. It is also reported that both Mr Fernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan are now being held at the Colombo office of the TID. CPA is deeply concerned for their safety.

CPA has had a long-standing association with both Ruki Fernando and Fr. Praveen Mahesan. They are peaceful individuals deeply committed to the cause of protecting the basic human rights of vulnerable individuals. CPA is shocked by accusations levelled against them of “terrorists” and of attempting to “incite violence amongst communities”. As recently as last week, an extremist religious group publicly stated that they would organise themselves as an “army” if their demands were not met. Surprisingly, none of these individuals or organisations are being called into question, let alone arrested on charges of causing communal discontent; HRDs on the other hand, continue to be threatened and intimidated through the use of unconscionable anti-terrorism legislation.

These detained activists are prominent campaigners against the large number of past and continuing cases of disappearances in Sri Lanka. In a context where Sri Lankan civil society organisations have challenged the credibility and independence of the investigations being conducted by the recently appointed Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into missing persons in the Northern and Eastern provinces, and where civil society organisations have taken an active role to hold the CoI accountable in order to ensure that it delivers on the promise of justice to victims, attempts to intimidate HRDs working on these issues clearly illustrates the Government’s unwillingness to ensure credible and transparent investigations into serious human rights violations.

These acts are part of a continued effort to stifle criticism of the Government of Sri Lanka and to suppress the flow of information in respect of past and continuing human rights violations. Despite repeated requests by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the harassment, intimidation and detention of HRDs continue unabated. In this instance, it is noteworthy that the harassment and detentions continue during the on-going 25th Session of the UNHRC, and further by immediate and disproportionate recourse to the anti-terrorism law rather than the ordinary law and order processes.

CPA has repeatedly called on the Government to repeal, if not amend the PTA so as to bring its provisions in line with Sri Lanka’s own constitutional standards of fundamental rights as well as its international obligations, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The PTA gives wide discretionary powers to law enforcement authorities on matters relating to detention and admission of confessions, providing little or no safeguards against abuses of power. It also provides for vague and loosely defined offences with heavy penalties that are inconsistent with general principles of criminal liability. The Act was initially conceived as a temporary measure to respond to extraordinary security challenges faced by the State in 1979. However, the draconian provisions of the Act have been regularised over time and have often been used to punish perceived opponents of the Government in power. Furthermore, the PTA’s continued existence in post-war Sri Lanka runs contrary to the narrative of peace and stability the Government projects both within and outside Sri Lanka.

In the context of growing international pressure on its human rights record, we call on the Government to act responsibly and engage with the international community in order to ensure the protection and guarantee of human rights ofall citizens regardless of ethnicity, religion, or political belief. It is also paramount that the Government adheres to its international and national obligations including to the obligations provided by its own National Human Rights Action Plan. Most pressingly, we reiterate our call for the immediate release of the three HRDs currently in detention without charge.

3 Activists Held in Sri Lanka, Raising Fears of Crackdown

by Gardiner Harris & Dharisha Bastians, ‘The New York Times,’ March 17, 2014

NEW DELHI — Fears of a broad crackdown against rights activists in Sri Lanka have been heightened after the Sri Lankan police recently arrested two prominent human rights advocates and a woman who has made a public campaign of finding her missing son.

The arrests took place just as the United Nations Human Rights Council considers starting an inquiry into possible war crimes committed by government forces and separatists during Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war.

Ruki Fernando, one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent human rights activists, and the Rev. Praveen Mahesan, a Roman Catholic priest and the former director of the Jaffna-based Center for Peace and Reconciliation, were detained around 10 p.m. on Sunday by Sri Lanka’s Terrorist Investigation Department in Kilinochchi, a former rebel stronghold.

The Sri Lankan police said the two activists were being held under the country’s antiterrorism laws. “They have been arrested on charges of creating communal disharmony and inciting racial hatred,” said Ajith Rohana, a police spokesman. He said the two would be taken to Colombo, the capital, for further interrogation.

On Friday, the government arrested Jeyakumari Balendran, an advocate for efforts to find missing people, on charges of harboring an armed man. Her own son, a child conscript to rebel forces, is still missing after he reportedly surrendered to government forces in 2009 and then was pictured in a government publication about rebel rehabilitation. Ms. Balendran’s 13-year-old daughter was taken into custody on Friday and has since been given to child probation officers, the police said.

Military officials denied that Ms. Balendran’s detention was connected to her demonstrations on behalf of missing persons. But the multiple arrests sent a ripple of dread through the country’s human rights groups.

“These are dark days,” wrote Fred Carver of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice in an email.

The United States Embassy in Colombo released astatement on Monday expressing concern about the arrests and saying that as a result, “we remain convinced that continued scrutiny by the Human Rights Council is necessary.”

Five years after the end of a decades-long civil war in which government forces battled the Tamil Tigers — a notoriously brutal insurgent group — the Sri Lankan government has shown little appetite for any robust investigation into possible war crimes. Some 40,000 people, many of them civilians, are estimated to have been killed in the war’s final stages.

Two resolutions pressing the Sri Lankan government to investigate war crimes have already been passed by the Human Rights Council, but Sri Lanka’s failure to heed these resolutions has led some nations to call for an independent inquiry that does not depend on the government.

The end of the insurgency has been a boon for Sri Lanka’s economy, as well as for the political fortunes of the family of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Roads have been rebuilt, tourists have returned and the pervading sense of unease that gripped the country for decades has largely evaporated.

President Rajapaksa is popular in Sri Lanka because of this turnaround, but an independent investigation of conduct during the war would be risky for him and his brother, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who led the war effort.

A version of this article appears in print on March 18, 2014, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: 3 Activists Held in Sri Lanka, Raising Fears of Crackdown.