The United Nations Human Rights Council should address the lack of accountability for wartime abuses in Sri Lanka during its March 2012 session, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Human Rights Council (HRC) member countries and observers Thursday. Nearly three years since the end of the war, the Sri Lankan government has not kept its commitments to its people, the UN secretary-general, and the HRC to undertake credible measures towards accountability.
“The Human Rights Council is uniquely positioned to ensure that the deaths and injuries of tens of thousands of civilians in the last months of Sri Lanka’s conflict are properly investigated,” said Philippe Dam, acting Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The failure of the council to respond to one of the worst episodes of human rights abuse since its creation would only undermine its relevance.”
Human Rights Watch urged the HRC to adopt measures to implement the recommendations made to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by his Panel of Experts, which found credible allegations of serious laws-of-war violations by government forces and the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Among other things, the panel recommended establishing an independent international mechanism to monitor and assess the extent to which the Sri Lankan government is carrying out an effective domestic accountability process, to conduct investigations independently into the alleged violations, and to collect and safeguard for appropriate future use information provided to it.
The Sri Lankan government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s (LLRC) report, which the government has claimed will serve as the basis for a roadmap on accountability, largely exonerates the actions of government forces and ignores the findings of the UN Panel of Experts, said Human Rights Watch. While some of the recommendations on reconciliation are useful and should be implemented, it only calls for investigations into a handful of specific incidents and fails to address the indiscriminate use of heavy artillery against civilian areas.
The Sri Lankan government has recently suggested that the recommendations of the LLRC report, which will not be submitted to the HRC, will be implemented shortly. However, Sri Lanka has a long history of failed promises to prosecute serious human rights abuses. Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuses by both sides during the 26-year armed conflict that ended in May 2009, virtually none of which have been prosecuted.
“It has long been clear that justice and accountability will not come from the Sri Lankan government,” said Dam. “Only international action will address the suffering of victims.”