May 21, 2013
The 19th session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) is currently being held in Geneva with the US-led resolution on Sri Lanka being a hot topic among the delegates. The resolution which was tabled last week has been met with hostility by some segments in Sri Lanka while others claim that the resolution is only aimed at ensuring that the government implements the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) which was set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to look into issues pertaining to reconciliation and accountability concerning the final stages of the war. Let’s take a detailed look into the resolution, varied views concerning its contents and engage in a conversation about its implications.
Firstly, what does the resolution actually entail?
The resolution firstly states that the LLRC report contains “constructive recommendations” including the need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances, de-militarize the north of Sri Lanka, implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, reevaluate detention policies, strengthen formerly independent civil institutions, reach a political settlement involving devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right of freedom of expression for all, and enact rule of law reforms.
Now let’s take a look at some of the key recommendations made by the LLRC which was set up by the government as an independent monitoring commission to look into various allegations hurled at Sri Lanka by international and domestic forces regarding the final stages of the war. It is important to note that the commission was setup to address issues of reconciliation and accountability and to set out a series of recommendations for the government to implement in finding solutions to long standing issues and grievances.
Some key recommendations in the LLRC report –
•Disappearances: Investigation and prosecution of cases of disappearance after surrender to official custody and framing domestic legislation to specifically criminalise enforced or involuntary disappearances
•Arrest and Detention: Law enforcement authorities to adhere to applicable legal provisions and due process when arresting and detaining persons; Timely disposal of cases of detainees who have been incarcerated for long periods of time without being charged; devise centralised systems of data collection at the national level with regard to detainees and missing persons.
•Paramilitary groups: Disarming paramilitary groups and investigation into allegations of human rights violations by such groups.
•Resettlement: Provide infrastructure needs for resettled communities such as roads, schools and hospitals in resettlement areas.
•Freedom of Speech: Steps taken to prevent harassment and attacks on media personnel and institutions, and imposition of deterrent punishment on such offences; Legislation to provide for right to information.
•Land: Amendment of law pertaining to prescription to prevent legitimising of forced eviction and secondary occupation of private lands in the North and East.
•Demilitarization of North: Disengagement of security forces from civil administration related activities as soon as possible, and revert to civilian administration in matters relating to the day-to-day life of the people.
•Equality and language rights: Adequate representation of Tamil speaking persons and Tamil speaking regions in official bodies executing language policies and monitoring performance.
When the LLRC report was released, many international powers claimed that the report was not up to the standard of the UN Expert Panel report which preceded it and accused the Sri Lankan government of grave war crimes. Furthermore, international authorities stated that the LLRC report was inadequate in tackling matters concerning accountability.
The government and most local political parties endorsed the report and stated that its recommendations needed to be implemented with the President’s Special Human Rights Envoy Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe stating at the UNHRC session that “the LLRC Report.. places before us material of the basis on which the Commissioners arrived at their conclusions, which are substantive and verifiable”. However, most Opposition political parties and the international communities have since voiced their concerns that although assurances were made, most of the recommendations had yet to be implemented.
Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka Prof. G.L. Pieris in a discussion held with the Foreign Minister of India, set out the steps taken by the Inter-Agency Advisory Committee (IAAC) chaired by the Attorney General in implementing the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC in relation to detention, law and order, administration and language issues and socio-economic and livelihood issues.
Also have a look at the joint statement made by the UN
and the government following Ban Ki Moon’s visit to Sri Lanka here.
The US then led a resolution at the 19th UNHRC session requesting the Sri Lankan government to implement these recommendations. Let’s take a closer look at the recommendations made in the resolution.
Three major recommendations were made as the US –
1. Called on the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations in the LLRC report and additionally to take immediate steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and stated commitment to address serious allegations of violations of international law by initiating credible and independent investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for such violations,
2. Requested that the Government of Sri Lanka present a comprehensive action plan before the 20th session of the Human Rights Council detailing the steps the Government has taken and will take to implement the LLRC recommendations and also to address alleged violations of international law,
3. Encouraged the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant special mandate holders to provide, and the Government of Sri Lanka to accept, advice and technical assistance on implementing those steps.
The first recommendation asks the government to implement the LLRC recommendations and requests the government to hold further internal inquiries into the war crimes allegations and punish those responsible. Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe stated at the UNHRC session that it was meaningless to bring about a resolution that wanted the government to implement what it was already implementing.
Amidst accusations that the government has yet to implement these recommendations, the government of Sri Lanka also requested more time for this purpose while some parties claimed that the government was using delaying tactics in this regard.
The second recommendation requested the government to provide a roadmap of what it has already implemented before the 20th UNHRC session which Minister Samarasinghe also ensured would be implemented in his exclusive interview with Ada Derana last month (February 27).
The third recommendation is for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide and Sri Lanka to accept help in implementing these steps, which the government of Sri Lanka has requested for in the past.
This resolution has been met with hostility within the country with government Ministers, politicians and religious figures calling the resolution a gross violation of the sovereignty of Sri Lanka and an attempt to drag the President and the armed forces to the international war crimes court.
Some of the varied reactions to the resolution in Sri Lanka –
The resolution however, does not explicitly talk about anything other than the LLRC report, the need to implement its recommendations and the need to hold further internal inquiries into allegations of war crimes.
So what are the real implications of the US led resolution on Sri Lanka? Is it really an attempt by the US and other international powers to meddle in the affairs of Sri Lanka for political reasons or is it a genuine attempt at ensuring accountability and true reconciliation? Is it trying to corner Sri Lanka in order to make the government look like the villain or is it making sure it keeps its promises regarding the implementation of the LLRC recommendations? Is the resolution unnecessary or is it vital to push the government to implement these recommendations in due time? Have your say.
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