A long-awaited United Nations report has urged Sri Lanka to establish a special court to try the “horrific” abuses committed by the authorities and the rebels in the last phase of the country’s civil war.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), which released the report in Geneva on Wednesday, called upon Colombo to create the proposed court through specific legislation by integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators. “For an accountability mechanism to succeed in Sri Lanka, it will require more than a domestic mechanism,” the OISL said. This would be “essential to give confidence to all Sri Lankans, in particular the victims, in the independence and impartiality of the process, particularly given the politicisation and highly polarised environment in Sri Lanka.”
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said at a press conference in Geneva that “our investigation has laid bare the horrific level of violations and abuses that occurred in Sri Lanka”.
The Sri Lankan government, while responding to the report, said the findings would receive “due attention” of relevant authorities. The government recognised “fully” that the report represented “a human rights investigation and not a criminal investigation”, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement here.
While the report found fault both with the authorities and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in respect of “unlawful killing”, it pulled up the former on several counts, including “sexual and gender-based violence”, “enforced disappearances”, and “torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.
As regards the detention of internally displaced people, the report said: “Almost 300,000 IDPs were deprived of their liberty in camps for periods far beyond what is permissible under international law.” The report was critical of the LTTE in respect of “recruitment of children and their use in hostilities”.
As for “attacks on civilians and civilian objects”, the OISL expressed “grave concerns” over the repeated shelling of hospitals in the Vanni. It did not absolve the LTTE either and the U.N. office wanted the entire matter to be investigated. “Violations attributable to one of the parties do not justify lack of compliance on the part of the other.”
On allegations of extrajudicial executions of identified LTTE cadres and unidentified individuals on or around May 18, 2009, some of whom were known to have surrendered to the Sri Lankan military, the OISL said: “Although some facts remain to be established, based on witness testimony as well as photographic and video imagery, there appears to be sufficient information in several cases to indicate that they were killed after being taken into custody.”