Government rejected project team’s visit – OHCHR

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The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the Government of Sri Lanka, on 18 July 2022, had rejected a visit by a team tasked with looking into an evidence-gathering mechanism.

On 8 July 2022, a project team for the ‘evidence-gathering mechanism’ wanted to visit Sri Lanka and approached the Government to seek permission for the visit to discuss their work, but the Government had responded on 18 July indicating that given its rejection of resolution 46/1, a visit to the country could not be authorised.

By 18 July Ranil Wickremesinghe was the Acting President at the time.

The Government has already informed the OHCHR that they have rejected resolution 46/1, paragraph 6 that mainly talks about an evidence-gathering mechanism, as it could be used to prosecute troops guilty of war crimes as well as against the constitutional framework.

The OHCHR has already mapped existing United Nations material, and integrated all of the material from the OHCHR Investigation onSri Lanka (OISL), where consistent with the applicable conditions and consent. The Office has also commenced identifying material held by other actors and engaging with information providers. To date, two organisations’ databases have been migrated into the repository, and negotiations with other information providers are ongoing.  

The OHCHR said the Sri Lankan Government responded on 18 July 2022, indicating that given its rejection of resolution 46/1 that called for an evidence-gathering mechanism, the team cannot visit the country.  But the UNHRC said, it will continue to seek cooperation and request information from the Government in regard to this work.

The UN Rights Commissioner’s office said for long, successive governments have failed to ensure accountability for gross human rights violations and abuses and serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, especially where alleged perpetrators are state agents. Recognising “the importance of preserving and analysing evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka with a view to advancing accountability,” the Human Rights Council decided in resolution 46/1, paragraph 6 to strengthen the capacity of OHCHR “to collect, consolidate, analyse, and preserve information and evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka, and to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial and other proceedings, including in Member States, with competent jurisdiction.”

The UN Rights Chief’s office said they had formed a dedicated project team to further strengthen its capacity in line with resolution 46/1 on the evidence-gathering mechanism and the team has been fully staffed and operational since May 2022, although the United Nations budget process impacted its configuration and delayed some recruitment. In carrying out this mandate, OHCHR is considering violations and abuses by all parties in Sri Lanka, and against any group, in any geographical area. It is also integrating a gender perspective and child-sensitive approach. 

The report of the OHCHR further said they continued to develop the information and evidence repository using an e-discovery platform. This includes configuration to facilitate collecting, organising, crosschecking, collating, searching, and analysing large quantities of data from multiple sources to preserve material and support accountability efforts.

The process of information collection requires great care and a victim-centred approach, the Human Rights Commissioner’s Office said. “The integration of material into the repository is carried out in line with United Nations regulations and policies and OHCHR’s procedures, and taking into account potential future requests for sharing of information.” 

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan