As the United States and the Government move ahead with diplomatic efforts to gather support for a domestic mechanism to investigate alleged war crimes, attempts are being made by other groups to ensure the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva refuses to back anything short of an international action.
A delegation from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is expected to leave for Geneva this month to hold discussions with UN Human Rights officials and the international community to gather their support for an international war crimes probe.
The visit will take place ahead of the release of the report on Sri Lanka by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights during the 30th session of the UNHRC in Geneva.
The report is expected to be critical towards the LTTE and the former Government who have been accused of widespread human rights violations in the final stages of the war between the military and LTTE.
"Before the report is submitted, we will be holding discussions with members from the international community and the UN Human Rights office to make our stand clear. We reject any domestic investigation and want war crimes probed by an independent foreign team," TNA Northern Provincil Council member, M.K. Shivajilingam said.
The five member TNA delegation will be travelling to Geneva independently and will not be a part of a Government delegation which will also be attending the Council sessions, Shivajilingam added.
The UN estimated that at least 40,000 Tamil civilians had been killed in the final months of the battle by both government and rebel shelling and had earlier called for an international independent probe.
Last week the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) passed a resolution refusing to back a domestic investigation on the war.
In the resolution, the NPC questioned the legal possibilities of conducting a credible domestic investigation in preference to an international mechanism.
“…The Council calls upon the international community to set up an international tribunal to try those alleged to have committed international crimes against the Tamil People in Sri Lanka,” the resolution titled ‘The Need for an International Mechanism’ said.
“We urge the new leaders of the Sri Lankan government to be courageous enough to work with the international community to set up a credible international mechanism which will deliver justice and put this nation on a path of meaningful reconciliation.”
The resolution also noted that the victims of the 26-year war, which ended in 2009, were spread across many countries.
International human rights groups said that they will be keeping a close watch on the UN report and the response the Government will make on it.
“Assuming that the report has some strong recommendations we would want the HRC members to ask the Government of Sri Lanka to offer a concrete and time bound plan for implementation,” the South Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, Meenakshi Ganguly told The Sunday Leader.
New York based Human Rights Watch has in the past called for an international investigation on Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, London based Amnesty International said that with parliamentary elections over and a new Government in place, it is time for Sri Lanka to make good on its promises to account for alleged crimes under international law.
"With parliamentary elections over and a new government in place, it is time for Sri Lanka to make good on its promises to account for alleged crimes under international law and build the domestic culture of human rights necessary to prevent the recurrence of past violations. If a process of truth, justice, reparation and non-recurrence is to take root in Sri Lanka, an essential step must be broad and meaningful consultation with representatives of civil society throughout the country, and notably the victims of human rights abuses and violations and surviving family members to determine what they need and expect from an accountability process. Their active and informed participation in its design is essential to ensure that the measures taken are meaningful, to gain their confidence to participate in the processes, and to defend accountability efforts against forces who may be intent on preventing the exposure of truth and accountability of perpetrators," Olof Blomqvist, Press Officer Asia/Pacific at the Amnesty International – International Secretariat told The Sunday Leader.
Meanwhile the Tamil Diaspora seem split on the position they are taking with regards to the UN report and the proposed domestic investigation.
While Diaspora groups are willing to give the new Sri Lankan Government time and space to conduct a domestic investigation, there are others who are demanding that earlier promises be kept and an international system be put in place to take action on Sri Lanka.
The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) led by former LTTE peace negotiator V. Rudrakumaran said that Tamils in Sri Lanka hope that an international accountability mechanism for the mass killing and disappearances of Tamils will be authorized by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
He noted that thousands of Tamils have been disappeared after being abducted by “white vans,” arrests under the PTA laws and other means by the Sri Lankan security forces before, during and since the war and the families are searching for their loved ones year after year. These Tamils were singled out for death purely for their ethnic identity.
“No one have been brought to justice for these disappearances, while many of those suspected of being behind the disappearances have been promoted or offered senior government positions, including diplomatic postings around the world. The families friends of the persons who have disappeared experience extreme mental anguish not knowing whether their sons or daughters, mothers or fathers are still alive. If alive, they do not know where they are being held or how they are being treated. They put themselves in danger of revenge if they protest too much. It is women who have led the struggle to find out what has happened to their loved ones since they disappeared. They put themselves in danger of intimidation, persecution and violence,” he said.
The TGTE requests the people at large to urge their respective governments to work in concert with other countries through the United Nations to account for those who have disappeared and to mete out remedial justice to the victims.
In resolution A/HRC/25/1 adopted in March 2014 on “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”, the United Nations Human Rights Council requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to “undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders”.
In June 2014, the High Commissioner appointed three distinguished experts, Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland, Ms. Silvia Cartwright, former High Court judge of New Zealand, and Ms. Asma Jahangir, former President of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, to play a supportive and advisory role, as well as independent verification throughout the investigation.
However the new Government won the support of the US and the UN after it assured a domestic investigation mechanism which meets international standards.
US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal, who was in Sri Lanka recently, confirmed during a meeting with a few journalists at the American Centre, that the US will be submitting a resolution in support of Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Biswal said that the matter had already been discussed with the international community as there is a need to give the new Sri Lankan government time to address the human rights concerns.
By Easwaran Rutnam