Published : 9:00 am  February 10, 2016 | No comments so far |  |  (601) reads | 

Says OHCHR recommends but the country should decide


BY LAHIRU POTHMULLA UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said yesterday that though the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) makes a recommendation on the judicial process into alleged war crimes or on the involvement of foreign judges, it was the sovereign right of Sri Lanka to decide.

He told a news conference held at the UN Office in Colombo, the UNHR Chief said the views of the Sri Lankan Government on foreign judges have been made known. “But as we discussed this with them, we know that they are looking at various options within the limits of what they describe as their preference.

Whatever we see from our side, it’s your sovereign right to decide,” the UNHR Chief said. However, he said at the end of the day whatever Sri Lanka did, it should make sure that justice is served to all the victims, whose human rights have been violated. “It’s not about what the UN says is good or bad.

What matters at the end is that justice is served to victims whose parents, children and siblings had been lost. It is their determination that matters, that they are convinced that the government has done enough. And for that reason consultation is vital for Sri Lanka,” the UNHR Chief said. He said Sri Lanka has many excellent judges, lawyers and law enforcement officials but over the years the judiciary had become highly politicised, unbalanced and unreliable and that the country’s history over the past few decades had been littered with judicial failures and virtually all Sri Lankans recognize this. “The Prime Minister has also commented on it at great length and with admirable candour, during a January 27 debate in Parliament. Virtually every week provides a new story of a failed investigation, a mob storming a courtroom or another example of a crime going unpunished. Particularly, sexual violence and harassment against women and girls is poorly handled by the relevant State institutions — especially when the alleged perpetrators are members of the military or security services — and, as a result it remains all too widespread,” he said. The UNHR Chief said it was for these reasons that the report and the Human Rights Council resolution suggested international participation in the accountability mechanisms set up to deal with international crimes and gross human rights violations committed by individuals on both sides. “This is a practical proposal to solve the very real and practical problems I mentioned earlier.

But it is only one aspect — albeit a very important one — of the broad range of measures outlined in the 2015 UN report and resolution and the extent to which it has been allowed to dominate the debate on Sri Lanka in recent days is unfortunate. Extreme nationalistic tendencies lay at the heart of Sri Lanka’s conflict, and they should not be allowed to undermine the country’s long term chances of recovery,” he said. Meanwhile, when a journalist asked whether former President Mahinda Rajapaksa would be brought before an international war crimes court, the UNHR Chief said certain mechanisms should be established to confirm whether systemic violations or planned prosecution had taken place.

“The process is a step by step one. There is no invocation of international investigation into alleged war crimes and that the judicial process is going to be a Sri Lankan one,” he said. He said the suggestion of having an impartial and independent court was fundamental — as it was an essential requirement to address the needs of the victims from all sides. “We felt that by an international jurisdiction this could be guaranteed. Now there may be other views and, certainly, the views of the victims must be brought into the discussion. That’s why the consultation process that the government has initiated is all the more important,” he said. “All this requires a step by step approach. In our report, we did not suggest a referral to an international criminal court. It would be difficult for the Sri Lankan Government to pass such a bill in parliament. And, for these reasons, there was no invocation of an international investigation, and the process is going to be a Sri Lankan one,” he said.

Commenting on the government’s efforts to protect human rights, he said it had shown a will to make great changes. But, he said, he had been told by the victims in the North and East, and by some analysts, that they feared that the government may be wavering with regard to its human rights commitments. “I was, therefore, reassured last morning when I heard both the president and the prime minister state their firm conviction in this regard,” he said. “With Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship we expect, in total, that they would be approached positively. This doesn’t mean there won’t be any complications when implementing them. We will contact the Sri Lankan authorities and consult them on what they are thinking” he added.

He said that the police, all too frequently, continued to resort to violence and the excessive use of force. He said the size of the military force in the North and East could be reduced. Prince Hussein stressed that the prime minister’s statement on the disappeared persons should be followed up with rapid action. He observed that the acceptance of the UNHRC resolution by Sri Lanka was a matter of strength, not weakness.