UN seeks special court to investigate Sri Lankan war atrocites

The UN rights chief on Wednesday said that war crimes and crimes against humanity may have been committed by both sides in Sri Lanka during the period of its civil war and recommended the setting up of a hybrid special court to deliver justice to the victims.

hidden September 16, 2015 19:18:06 IST
UN seeks special court to investigate Sri Lankan war atrocites
By Shreerupa Mitra-Jha

New Delhi: The UN rights chief on Wednesday said that war crimes and crimes against humanity may have been committed by both sides in Sri Lanka during the period of its civil war and recommended the setting up of a hybrid special court to deliver justice to the victims.

“The report reveals patterns of grave violations, indicating that war crimes and crimes against humanity were likely committed by both sides to the conflict,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, releasing the much-anticipated United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)-mandated investigation report on Sri Lanka on Wednesday.

“Given war crimes and crimes against humanity can only be proven in a court of law, one of the most significant recommendations contained in the report is the proposed establishment of a hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators,” said the High Commissioner.

UN seeks special court to investigate Sri Lankan war atrocites

Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein. Reuters

“The commitment by the new Government  to pursue accountability through a domestic process is commendable…but the unfortunate reality is that Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system is not yet ready,” the report states.

The report comes as the US is preparing to co-sponsor a resolution in the current session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Citing the reasons for the establishment of such a hybrid special court, the UN rights chief said that Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system is not equipped to deal with “international crimes of this gravity and scale”. Additionally there is no reliable system of victim and witness protection while the justice system has been corrupted by decades of “emergency, conflict and impunity”.

The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 to conduct a probe into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period 2002-11. The 251-page report which is divided into two parts is based on eye-witness testimony, interviews with victims and witnesses, video and photographic material including satellite imagery and about 3,000 written statements and submissions, as well as previously unpublished reports.

The OHCHR said that the investigating team was not granted access to Sri Lanka during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, and faced many other obstacles including the former Government’s threats and intimidation to the people in the north of the country preventing them from cooperating in the investigation.

The repeated shelling by Government forces of hospitals and humanitarian facilities in the densely populated ‘No Fire Zones,’ severe sexual torture in a wide range of detention locations by different security forces, the increasing recruitment of children below 15 in the war, are some of the many war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law documented in the OHCHR report.

Responding to a question on whether Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother are named in the report, the UN rights chief said that the report does not contain any names but that the “broader patterns organization and planning was apparent in the commission of many of these crimes”.

Though the details of working arrangements of the hybrid special court is yet to be worked out, if the recommendation of the OHCHR is adopted, however,“we have to ensure that the victims feel that this is not a replay of the past—that this court, if constituted will advance the cause of justice and the cause of victims in the years to come,” he added.

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