UN OCHCR releases Sri Lanka report, calls for hybrid courts with international judges

UN Human Rights Council releases report on Sri Lanka war crimes here are the highlights
news Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - 15:27

The report on the UN Human Rights Council-mandated investigation on the alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka has been now made publicly available. The report, based on an investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), has sought an ad-hoc hybrid special court to be set up for investigation into war crimes.

The report says that the OCHCR is of the opinion that the process of reconciliation and finding what really happened during the war requires more than a domestic mechanism. The proposed ad-hoc hybrid court will include international judges and investigators who can act independently.

Though the report welcomes the new government's commitments, it says that six years following the end of the war, many displaced populations have yet to achieve durable solutions, particularly with respect to livelihoods.

The investigation report paints a grim picture of what transpired in Sri Lanka during the last stages of the war between government forces and the LTTE or Tamil Tigers. The report documents in detail the human right violations and purported war crimes committed by both groups, but stops short of mentioning any names.

What the OHCHR investigation found

The investigations prove that there have been gross violations of international human rights law, serious violations of international humanitarian law and international crimes were committed by all parties during the period under investigation, many of which could amount to war crimes.

The report has documented brutal use of torture by the Sri Lankan security forces in a systematic and large-scale manner and many can amount to war crimes.

Rape and sexual violence- Forms of sexual violence and rape were widespread against male and female detainees as a deliberate means of torture.

LTTEā€™s recruitment- The LTTE followed a pattern and systematically abducted adults, who were forcibly recruited. Children were recruited extensively and used in the conflict. "Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and could also constitute war crimes if proven in a court of law," says the report.

Security forces were involved in repeated shelling of hospitals, food distribution centres and humanitarian facilities in the Vanni during the conflict, and this violation can amount to a war crime.

Unlawful killings- The Sri Lankan security forces and paramilitary groups associated with them carried out unlawful killings of civilians and other protected persons. Tamil politicians, humanitarian workers and journalists were particularly targeted.

LTTEā€™s killings- Investigation has found that the LTTE also unlawfully killed Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese civilians perceived to "hold sympathies contrary to the LTTE". 

Extrajudicial executions of identified LTTE cadres- The investigation says there is sufficient information that these executions did happen.

Government security forces were engaged in long-standing patterns of arbitrary arrest, abduction and detentions.

There is reliable information on hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances. Many who disappeared after handing themselves over to the Army at the end of the conflict were deliberately targeted because they were or were perceived to be affiliated with LTTE forces.

LTTEā€™s tactic of not allowing civilians to leave the Vanni and making them vulnerable to attacks may amount to a war crime.

The Sri Lankan government deliberately stopped passage of relief and the freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel, thereby depriving citizens of Vanni of basic food and medicine supplies essential to survival.

Conclusions and recommendations

Establish an independent hybrid special court with its own investigative and prosecuting organ, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators.

End the impunity enjoyed by the security forces and paramilitary groups, hold them and surviving members of LTTE responsible. Prosecuting a few emblematic cases will not be sufficient.

Vetting process to identify and remove security and military force personnel who were involved in human rights violation.

The report asks Sri Lanka to set up a high-level executive group to oversee implementation of the report and also to invite OHCHR to establish a full-fledged country presence.

The report asks UN and member countries to apply stringent vetting procedures to Sri Lankan police and military personnel identified for peacekeeping, military exchanges and training programmes.

Sprinkle of praise and criticism for the new government

Since January 2015, there has been a significant opening of space for freedom of expression, at least in Colombo, although reports of surveillance, interference and harassment of human rights defenders continued to be received from the district level. On January 16, 2015, the government lifted restrictions on access by journalists to the northern region.   

The Government is still to embark on any comprehensive process of demilitarization.

Six years following the end of the war, many displaced populations have yet to achieve durable solutions, particularly with respect to livelihoods.  A major problem continues to be the military occupation of private land, although the Government has proceeded with some land releases in Thellipallai and Kopai in the North and in Sampur in the East.

The Government has been slow to clarify the number and identity of detainees still held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and emergency regulations.

Although the Government has engaged in dialogue with Tamil diaspora groups, it has not yet taken steps to de-list the numerous Tamil diaspora organizations and individuals proscribed under the PTA in March 2013.

Torture and sexual violence remain a critical concern even now.