Credibility of national investigation is needed to be ensured.

Oct 10th, 2014 | By | Category: samabima english, TOP NEWS

The oral update on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.  (Part 03)

Protection of victims and witnesses
24. This climate of intimidation and threat seems calculated to make the international investigation mandated by the Human Rights Council even more challenging and difficult. It means that the OHCHR team have to take all possible appropriate measures to protect potential witnesses who may wish to provide information.

25. It will also impact on the prospects for Sri Lanka’s own domestic investigations, where witness and victim protection has long been a major concern. The High Commissioner notes in this regard that the Government finally submitted to Parliament the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Bill in August 2014. This draft legislation has been in preparation since 2006 and Sri Lanka has repeatedly committed to its adoption in the Human Rights Council. OHCHR will carefully study the draft legislation in line with international standards. However a preliminary analysis raises a number of concerns about the composition of the proposed National Authority for Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses, the location of the victims of crime and witnesses assistance and protection division within the police department, and the prohibition of accepting assistance from foreign governments. The High Commissioner also notes that the draft bill requires public officials to be present when witnesses testify from remote locations, which will severely constrain the possibilities for evidence to be taken by video-link from abroad. The former High Commissioner’s offer of technical assistance in this area has not been accepted.

LLRC implementation
26. In resolution 25/1, the Human Rights Council reiterated its call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to implement effectively the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). The Council took note of the Government’s national plan of action to implement the LLRC recommendations, although noted that it did not adequately address all of the findings and recommendations of the Commission and did not sufficiently address serious allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

27. In May 2014, the President informed the Secretary-General that 30 percent of the LLRC recommendations had been implemented . A Special Bureau for Reconciliation has been established to assist line ministries in implementation of various aspects of the national plan of action for implementation of the LLRC recommendations. The Government’s last update on implementation of the plan was published in July 2014 .

28. There have been further steps to implement a national trilingual language policy, including the establishment of Official Languages Commissions in two provinces and the provision of Tamil speaking police officers in the North and East. A National Unity Convention was held in April and Social Integration Week in July to encourage social cohesion. Sri Lanka also hosted the World Conference on Youth in May 2014.

29. Resettlement, reconstruction and development activities have continued apace in the northern and eastern provinces, with the Government reporting that as of August 2014 only 26,056 internally displaced persons (7,840 families) remain to be resettled. Progress has also been made in the restoration of the education system in the conflict-affected areas with 1,105 primary schools upgraded and promising student results in both provinces. The Government reports it has allocated an additional Rs 475 million for restitution and compensatory relief in 2014, but has yet to develop a national reparations policy as part of a broader transitional justice process, as recommended by former High Commissioner and encouraged by the Human Rights Council. The High Commissioner encourages the Government to involve the elected Northern Provincial Council more fully in the design and implementation of these reconstruction programs.

30. OHCHR will closely follow future developments in the implementation of the LLRC recommendations, and report again on progress to the Human Rights Council in its forthcoming report in March 2014.

Domestic accountability processes
31. One of the important initiatives taken in follow up to the LLRC was the establishment of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate cases of abduction and disappearance between January 1983 and May 2009 of persons resident in the north and east of Sri Lanka. As of August 2014, the Commission had held six rounds of public hearings in Kilinochchi, Jaffna, Batticaloa, Mullaitivu and Mannar. The Commission is understood to have received 12,995 complaints from the northern and eastern provinces of which 1,215 have been invited to appear and 930 cases have been completed. A further 3,241 applications have been received during the public hearings, although it is not clear if these are included in the figure above. Approximately 374 complaints have been received from other provinces that might fall outside the scope of the inquiry, as well as approximately 5,000 complaints from families of missing army personnel.

32. While OHCHR has not observed the proceedings at first hand, reports from independent observers have raised concerns with the line of questioning by the commissioners and counsel, the quality of translation services, the lack of counselling support for victims and the presence of military intelligence officers at some hearings. Families of the disappeared have also complained of harassment and pressure by police, military and intelligence prior to and at the time of the hearings which impeded some from appearing before the Commission. At the Mullaitivu hearings in July, some testimonies revealed family members had been approached by officials of the Terrorism Investigation Department pressuring them to obtain death certificates for their missing loved ones. The Bishop of Mannar raised similar concerns in a letter to the Commission in August 2014. These challenges have been flagged to the Commission by civil society groups but the same problems have continued to be reported at subsequent hearings. The Government has reported it is finalising a “Psycho-social Support and Counselling Services” programme for relatives of missing persons.

33. The mandate of the Commission has been extended twice by the President, its current completion date now being 25 February 2015. In July 2014, the President also announced that the mandate of the Commission would be broadened to include investigations into the facts and circumstances that led to the loss of life in the final stages of the conflict and whether any individuals or groups bear responsibility, the adherence of both Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE to principles of international humanitarian law, as well as the use of human shields and other crimes committed by the LTTE.

34. The President also invited six international experts to act as an advisory group to the Commission. At the time of this update, the role of experts and the nature of their involvement were not clear, nor whether they would be supported by independent staff or observe proceedings. It was also not clear what new investigative resources would be put at the disposal of the Commission, or how its methodology would change to fulfil its expanded mandate, in view of the public hearings already conducted.
35. The other domestic investigation into alleged violations created to follow up the LLRC are the Army Courts of Inquiry. The first stage on alleged civilian casualties was completed last year, but its report has still not been published, as requested by the Human Rights Council to allow the evidence and findings to be evaluated. No further progress has been reported in the second stage to examine the video footage of summary executions and other violations broadcast by Channel Four.

36. On the other emblematic cases reported by the former High Commissioner, there has been no further outcome. The non-summary proceedings to investigate the killing of five students in Trincomalee in 2006 have not reached conclusion after one year and the security force personnel remanded in the case have remained on bail. In relation to the killing of 17 Action Contre la Faim (ACF) aid workers in Muttur in 2006, the Government has indicated it is discussing possible cooperation with France to access witnesses who are now abroad, although the Embassy of France has announced that no agreement has been reached. The Ministry of Defence also circulated a report it had commissioned from a group of unnamed experts which makes criticisms of the conduct of ACF in this case and concludes the deaths could have been prevented. The relationship between this report and the formal criminal investigation is unclear, and it seems an inappropriate interference in the judicial proceedings and which also risks compounding the stress and trauma experienced by the victims’ families.

37. The report of the Sri Lankan Army’s investigations into the deaths of protestors in the incident at Welewirya in August 2013 has still not been published, as requested by the Human Rights Council, nor have the results of the inquiries into deaths at Vavuniya and Welikanda Prisons in 2012.

38. The national inquiry on torture cases which had been announced by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka at this time last year has not proceeded in any form.

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