Conduct independent, transparent probe – OHCHR

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The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), yesterday (12) at the on-going 51st session of the Human Rights Council (UNHRC), called for an independent and transparent investigation, with international assistance if necessary, into the Easter Bombings of 2019, to pursue further lines of inquiry, in particular the role of the security establishment, in a process that guarantees the full participation of victims and their representatives.

Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif informed UN Council Members that, despite the arrest of several individuals, there has been no further progress in determining the truth about the horrific Easter Sunday attacks.

She also reiterated that in the 13 years since the end of the war, where tens of thousands of survivors and their families continue to seek justice and to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones is remaining in need of reparations.

“The Sri Lankan State has repeatedly failed to pursue an effective transitional justice process and uphold victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations. Rather, as described in our previous reports, successive governments have created political obstacles to accountability, actively promoted and incorporated some military and former paramilitary officials credibly implicated in alleged war crimes into the highest levels of government, and have failed to present a shared understanding of the conflict and its root causes.”

She also pointed out that the High Commissioner at the 49th session in 2020 said the scale and type of the accountability work require adequate time, financial resources and support by States and therefore urged the Council to ensure that this important work is appropriately reinforced.

She said, the OHCHR received continued reports of surveillance and intimidation of civil society organisations, victim groups, human rights defenders, journalists and former cadres of the LTTE by Police, military and intelligence services. “Without fundamental security-sector reforms and de-militarisation of the North and the East, this pervasive culture of surveillance and oppression will not end,” she added.

Referring to Human Rights Council Resolution 46/1, Paragraph 6, she reiterated about the team established by the Office to advance accountability has made important progress.

“The team has conducted proactive investigative and analytical work, including in relation to gender and child-related violations, and is consolidating information and evidence collected by the United Nations and other bodies and entities into a repository, which will assist future accountability initiatives, she pointed out. She added that the OHCHR will continue to place victims at the heart of this work.  This includes seeking to minimise security risks faced by those who speak out about past violations.

The broad-based demands by Sri Lankans from all communities, in particular youth, for accountability and democratic reforms present an important starting point for a new and common vision for the future of Sri Lanka. I encourage the new Government to embark on a national dialogue to advance human rights and reconciliation and to carry out the deeper institutional, democratic and security sector reforms needed to restore the independence of key institutions, combat impunity, to prevent the recurrence of human rights violations, and to tackle the economic crisis.

In doing so, it is essential the Government ensures an environment that respects and promotes free expression, peaceful assembly and inclusive democratic participation. Of concern in recent weeks, scores of leaders and members of the protest movement and trade unions have been arrested. Particularly troubling was the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act to arrest three student leaders on 18 August 2022, despite the Government’s announcement in June 2022 that it has been applying a de facto moratorium on the use of this Act since March of this year”.

She stressed that the Government has a fresh opportunity to steer the country on the path toward justice and reconciliation and to address the legacy of conflict.   

The continuation of land disputes, mainly related to Buddhist heritage conservation at Hindu or Muslim sites or expansion of military installations in the Northern and Eastern Provinces has further jeopardised reconciliation and created new tensions, she added.

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan