Over five years after the conclusion of Sri Lanka’s civil war, will victims finally see justice done? The country’s new government is taking steps in that direction by promising to establish a domestic inquiry within a month.
During an official visit to the United Kingdom last week, newly elected Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena expressed his plans to set up a special domestic investigative commission within a month that would inquire into the alleged atrocities committed during the last stages of the country’s decades-long civil war, which ended in 2009.
In a surprise victory earlier this year, Sirisena defeated then-president Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka’s eighth presidential election. The former health minister built his presidential campaign on promises to reform power structures and establish “independent commissions in order to secure the impartiality of institutions such as the judiciary, police, elections, auditing, and the office of the Attorney-General.”
The win sparked hope that progress would be made towards ending the country’s culture of impunity.
In February, more than 60 civil society groups from 17 countries across Asia called for the Sri Lankan government to ensure that truth, justice and accountability are established through credible investigations into allegations of human rights and humanitarian law.
The joint statement also called for the government to constructively engage with the UN’s inquiry into the civil war and to incorporate its findings and recommendations into continuing domestic efforts. The groups entreated the government to seek the assistance and involvement of the UN, other international bodies and experts to ensure that domestic initiatives towards accountability, justice and reconciliation adhere to international standards and best practices.
Sirisena has said that the involvement of UN investigators in the planned domestic commission is unnecessary, but that their advice will be taken into account.
The government’s failure provide real accountability and redress after its victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 prompted the UN Human Rights Council to open the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL)—an international investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. However, the Rajapaksa government refused to cooperate with the investigation.
In mid-February, upon Sri Lanka’s request, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recommended the deferral of the OISL report’s release until September, to reflect the changing context in Sri Lanka.
During a UN Human Rights Council session earlier this month, FORUM-ASIA stated that:
“mere political transition is not necessarily a guarantee for securing human rights… It is our hope that the OISL report will take this context into account and both meaningfully establish accountability for grave human rights violations and advocate stringently for sustained international scrutiny until tangible results are demonstrably achieved, on the ground.”
Civil society will monitor establishment of the domestic commission and encourage the Sri Lankan government to constructively engage with the UN to ensure that justice is done.
What do you think – what role should the UN play in Sri Lanka’s accountability efforts?