UN wants international judges in Sri Lanka war crimes court
The United Nations on Wednesday detailed horrific abuses committed in Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, including the disappearance of tens of thousands of people, and said the country needed international help to probe war crimes to enable reconciliation.
“A purely domestic court procedure will have no chance of overcoming widespread and justifiable suspicions fuelled by decades of violations, malpractice and broken promises,” UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
Sri Lanka’s new unity government has promised dramatic reforms to achieve accountability for alleged atrocities during the 26-year civil war.
It had been hoping to win UN backing for a domestic probe.
But the long-awaited report from Zeid’s office concluded that “Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system is not yet ready or equipped” to conduct an independent and credible investigation.
Instead, it urged the country to establish a “hybrid special court”, including international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, to probe abuses during and following the war.
The conflict between government forces and the Tamil Tiger guerrillas cost at least 100,000 lives by the time it ended in 2009.
“The levels of mistrust in state authorities and institutions by broad segments of Sri Lankan society should not be underestimated,” Zeid warned.
The report identified patterns of grave violations during and following the war “strongly indicating that war crimes and crimes against humanity” had been committed by both sides in the conflict.
Among other things, it found that tens of thousands of Sri Lankans remained missing after decades of conflict, suggesting enforced disappearances had been part of a systematic policy.
“In particular, there are reasonable grounds to believe that a large number of individuals who surrendered during the final phase of the war were disappeared, and remain unaccounted for,” the rights office said in a statement.
Many others not directly linked to the conflict had vanished after being snatched up by “white vans,” it said.
Wednesday’s report looked specifically at the period between 2002 and 2011.
It also described widespread illegal killings by both sides and a deliberate policy by Sri Lankan security forces to use rape and sexual violence as torture against both women and men.
It found that children were often abducted by the separatists from their homes, schools, temples and checkpoints and sent to the front lines as soldiers, while a group linked to the government had also recruited children.
“The report reveals violations that are among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole,” Zeid said.
The report had initially been scheduled to be published in March, but Zeid had recommended it be delayed for six months to give the country’s new government a chance to cooperate with investigators.
Zeid on Wednesday hailed the dramatic change of tone among Sri Lanka’s leadership since President Maithripala Sirisena came to power in January promising reconciliation and accountability.
But he cautioned that breakthroughs had been seen before in the country, only to later stall.