Vengeance Politics at UNHRC Gathering in Geneva: Two Acts

ONE = Callum Macrae’s Updated Video Documentary:“Sri Lanka and the search for justice, ten years on” …..

An updated short film from Callum Macrae based on his earlier documentary ‘No Fire Zone’, which re-visits the final stages of Sri Lanka’s conflict to defeat the LTTE. This film was screened at the recently ended 40th sessions of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva where Sri Lanka’s Resolution 30/1 to promote Peace, Reconciliation & Accountability was again co-sponsored and rolled over for a further 2 years.

A new short film, based on the award-winning ‘No Fire Zone’ documentary, which re-visits the final stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war and considers the ongoing need for accountability a decade on. Recently screened at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the film presents an important and timely reminder of the crimes allegedly committed in 2009 and the failure of the UN system to protect civilians during that time. In 2011, a report by a UN Panel of Experts made the following conclusions:

“…the Panel found credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace.

In conclusion, the Panel found credible allegations that comprise five core categories of potential serious violations committed by the Government of Sri Lanka:

(i) killing of civilians through widespread shelling;
(ii) shelling of hospitals and humanitarian objects;
(iii) denial of humanitarian assistance;
(iv) human rights violations suffered by victims and survivors of the conflict, including both IDPs and suspected LTTE cadre; and
(v) human rights violations outside the conflict zone, including against the media and other critics of the Government.

The Panel’s determination of credible allegations against the LTTE associated with the final stages of the war reveal six core categories of potential serious violations:

i) using civilians as a human buffer;
ii) killing civilians attempting to flee LTTE control;
iii) using military equipment in the proximity of civilians;
iv) forced recruitment of children;
v) forced labour; and
vi) killing of civilians through suicide attacks.”

The film considers the important question of why, despite the current government of Sri Lanka’s stated commitment to address the past, it has failed to hold the perpetrators of serious human rights violations to account. And it asks what the international community can and must now do to help bring an end to the culture of impunity in Sri Lanka, before the window of opportunity to lay the foundations for sustainable peace closes.

TWO: Global Tamil Forum (GTF) calls for victim-centric actions in coordination with UNHRC to ensure successful Transitional Justice process in Sri Lanka, 10 April 2019

The statements made by the Sri Lankan delegates at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) 40th session and again within a week after returning from Geneva are highly disappointing. The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) finds this disconcerting, considering Sri Lanka has just taken the positive step of co-sponsoring the HRC Resolution 40/1. The statements dealing exclusively with macho nationalism and inviolable sovereignty; constitutional scapegoats; and even misrepresentation about private meetings with high-ranking OHCHR officials were clearly aimed at pacifying the Sinhala hard-line elements. The merits of the UNHRC processes, the disappointments expressed by most countries regarding the pace of progress, and the failure to date to make real impact on individual victims and their families did not deserve any mention.

The core of the argument presented by Foreign Minister Marapana at the Human Rights Council centred on the Supreme Court resolving the constitutional crisis late last year and how that is giving credence to the independence of Sri Lanka’s judiciary. The peaceful resolution of that crisis is welcome, and it indicates improvement from previous years in the objectivity of the Supreme Court when it concerns constitutional matters. However, the Sri Lankan judiciary and other key institutions administering justice on serious crimes committed during the war, perhaps with the connivance of some who were associated with the government, is altogether a different proposition.

Speaking in the Sri Lankan Parliament after the passing of the Resolution 40/1, the Foreign Minister again ruled out the possibility for foreign judges, saying “Without legislation, we cannot have foreign judges sitting in our judicial system deciding the capability of our citizens. Even if we bring in such legislation, the Supreme Court will strike it down.” While his constitutional interpretation has been questioned by many, the Minister was oblivious to the fact that Sri Lanka co-sponsored the UNHRC resolutions three times, and the resolutions unambiguously specified the importance of including “Commonwealth and other foreign judges” in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, not as mere observers or advisers, but in full judicial capacity.

It is an undisputable fact that ten years after the end of the war, not a single family affected by enforced disappearance has been able to ascertain the truth, or received justice or reparation, and no one has been punished for the war crimes committed. Even in the emblematic cases such as – the killings of 5 students in Trincomalee; the massacre of 17 aid workers in Muttur (both in 2006); and the murder of the high-profile journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge (2009) – there has been no judicial outcome more than a decade after. If the past is of any indication, there is not a single case or outcome to support the independence and impartiality of the judiciary when serious cases of human rights violations are heard – particularly when the perpetrators are security forces and those linked to the establishment, and the victims are Tamils.

There is no doubt among the victimised Tamil community and the human rights bodies that Sri Lanka lacks the capacity will and laws to criminalise atrocity crimes and provide witness protection. Hence credible international participation is vital in any worthy judicial process. Insisting continuously on a purely domestic court and judges will only lead to increased calls for an international judicial mechanism to address criminal accountability.

High Commissioner Bachelet was accurate when she addressed the Human Rights Council, stating “Sri Lanka’s process of implementing human rights reforms has been delayed due to the lack of common vision among the country’s highest leadership.” The deplorable statements by Sri Lankan officials during and after the UNHRC sessions are consistent with this lack of vision and leadership that is symptomatic of Sri Lanka’s troubled transitional justice process.

There never was a serious attempt to incorporate in the national dialogue the importance of accountability, the need to end impunity and the urgency of constitutional reforms to achieve genuine reconciliation, peace and prosperity benefiting all communities. A comprehensive plan to implement all aspects of the UNHRC resolutions in a timely and synchronised manner was never developed. Instead, it was always an ad hoc politicised process to keep the international community at bay, while no serious step was taken fearing it would result in political fallouts. At times it even appeared that imaginary opposition by extremist elements was used as cover to mask lack of political will. Justice for the victims and their families was never a serious concern.

Almost a decade has passed since the war ended and it is unconscionable to let the victims remain in limbo and suffer. The access to truth and justice – a basic universal human right – should no longer be denied to the victims, irrespective of their origins and backgrounds. Rather, a victim-centric approach and an action plan arrived in coordination with the OHCHR, along with full utilisation of Technical Assistance provided by UNHRC and other UN agencies is vital, to regain the momentum to prevent failure of the transitional justice agenda.

GTF fully concurs with High Commissioner Bachelet’s call that “the Sri Lankan Government should now refocus its efforts on fulfilling its obligation to provide justice and accountability and honour its commitments to establish the truth about what happened and to promote reconciliation,” and would like to reaffirm its commitment to assist such a process that will lead to true accountability, political resolution and closure to the emotional sufferings of the surviving victims. Only such measures will guarantee non-recurrence of conflict and foster durable peace for all peoples of Sri Lanka.


Media Contact: Suren Surendiran

Tel: +44 (0) 7958 590196 

Skype: surendirans


Twitter: @GTFonline & @surendirans

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