Colombo Telegraph

Sri Lanka has the second highest unresolved cases of disappearances – Amnesty International

By Colombo Telegraph –

Dr.Yolanda Foster

“Sri Lanka has the second highest unresolved cases of disappearances registered with the Working Group on Disappearances. This means 1 ,000s of unclarified cases, 1,000s of families without closure.” Yolanda Foster said. Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka expert Yolanda Foster made above remarks at an interactive meeting organised by the  Freedom from Torture’s Sri Lanka event at Loading Bay Gallery, London on Friday (25).

Freedom from Torture has published shocking new evidence of torture in Sri Lanka which demonstrates the practice has continued long after the end of the civil war in May 2009. The research shows that torture is perpetrated by officials within both the military and the police and that people within the Tamil population who are perceived by the authorities as having links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) remain at risk of being detained and tortured.

“An independent international investigation is crucial for two reasons: firstly, to protect the global principle of accountability for international crimes, and prevent the establishment of a negative precedent for other states that may emulate Sri Lanka’s attempt to flout international law so egregiously; and secondly, to help the process of reconciliation inside Sri Lanka through findings issued by a neutral outside body free of perceptions of bias, that can establish the truth and provide justice for the crimes committed by all sides to the conflict, including the LTTE, government forces and their affiliates.” she further said.

The full speech is reproduced below:

Amnesty International has been documenting human rights abuses in Sri Lanka for over 30 years.These include disappearances by the security forces; unlawful killings by proxy armed groups like the EPDP; child recruitment by the Tamil Tigers as well as custodial torture by the police.

Impunity in Sri Lanka has a long history.

To me, the lack of independent investigation for 1 ,000s of disappearance over the last 3 decades is a symbol of this impunity. Sri Lanka has the 2nd highest unresolved cases of disappearances registered with the Working Group on Disappearances. This means 1 ,000s of unclarified cases, 1 ,000s of families without closure.

The end of the war in Sri Lanka marked a nadir in terms of the scale & gravity of human rights abuses by both sides of the conflict.

Sri Lanka continues to rely on security laws and a military apparatus that perpetuated human rights violations.

Amnesty International has called for an independent UN-led investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both sides in the last phase of the Sri Lankan armed conflict. We have done so because we doubt Sri Lanka’s will and ability to bring perpetrators to justice, given the gravity of the allegations levelled by witnesses against both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan military, the potential that serving members of the Sri Lankan government may be implicated in the violations, and persistent official denials that crimes occurred.

The country’s climate of impunity – stretching back decades, its long history of ineffective domestic inquiries into human rights violations, and its lack of political will to end ongoing, serious violations of human rights makes it doubly doubtful that justice will be served for war-time atrocities.

At an international level there has been a failure to act

The UN Security Council failed to address the situation in Sri Lanka in 2009, arguing “that there was no threat to international peace and security since the conflict was contained within Sri Lanka and had no spill-over effect across its borders”.

In June 2010 the Secretary-General appointed a Panel of Experts to advise him on accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka. It looked into the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes, taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka. It submitted its report to the SG in April 2011. The SG made the report public on 12 April 2011.

The mandate of the Panel of experts did not extend to fact finding or investigation and therefore falls short of what would have been required, but it did assess the “nature and scope of alleged vlolatlons.” It did not receive authorization from the Sri Lankan government to visit the country. “But it did produce a strong, credible report – for the first time an international body acknowledged the extent of human rights abuses committed in the last days of Sri Lanka’s brutal conflict, when at least 10,000 civilians were killed”. It found credible allegations of a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE, some of which could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Panel of Experts recommended, among others, the establishment of an independent international mechanism with concurrent functions to monitor the domestic accountability process conduct independent investigations and collect and safeguard information provided to it. The SG said on 25 April he could only initiate an investigation with Sri Lanka’s consent or a decision from Member States through an “appropriate intergovernmental forum”

The Panel of Experts also recommended a review of UN actions during the war in Sri Lanka, given its failure to take actions that might have protected civilians during the final stages of the war. The SG indicated that he would enact this recommendation.

You may ask, Why was no investigation commission of experts appointed in 2010 …. !?

In line with the approach in 2009, the SG never brought the Panel’s report to the attention of the Security Council, and the SC never discussed its findings. After a great deal of pressure, the SG finally transmitted the Panel’s report to Hle President of the Human Rights Council and OCHCR in September 2011. No further action has so far been taken.

The failure of the UN to act in 2009 is an example of pragmatism trumping the protection mandate. What is needed now is committed, global support for an independent international investigation.

The fact is that the government continues to arbitrarily detain, torture or otherwise ill-treat and subject people to enforced disappearances. It has failed to address most instances of impunity for violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Sri Lanka continues to rely on security laws and a military apparatus that perpetuated human rights violations. We are faced with a challenge that the discussion on accountability at a global level has been taken to the Human Rights Council but it’s our job then to use the space of the Human Rights Council and other forum as constructively and best we can.

That means bringing clear evidence into the public domain and faming the arguments in a human rights framework so that this is perceived to be a non­partisan debate.

An independent international investigation is crucial for two reasons: (1) to protect the global principle of accountability for international crimes, and prevent the establishment of a negative precedent for other states that may emulate Sri Lanka’s attempt to flout international law so egregiously; and (2) to help the process of reconciliation inside Sri Lanka through findings issued by a neutral outside body free of perceptions of bias, that can establish the truth and provide justice for the crimes committed by all sides to the conflict, including the L TTE, government forces and their affiliates.

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