UNOHCHR Report calls for justice and accountability
Action against LTTE financiers and
other international operatives will be an integral part of the criminal
investigation recommended in the OHCHR Report. The OHCHR Special
Spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani called upon everyone in Sri Lanka should
study the Report in depth. "This is a Report for the people of Sri
Lanka. We want the people to understand the findings, understand the
analysis and in that context to look at the recommendations" .
Special Spokesperson for
the Office of the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Ravina
Shamdasani. Pic by Manjula Fernando
The Special Spokesperson for the Office of the UN Human Rights High
Commissioner, Ravina Shamdasani, said action against LTTE financiers and
other international operatives will be an integral part of the criminal
investigation that the High Commissioner had proposed through the
recommended Special Hybrid Court.
Shamdasani was in Colombo during the release of the Report of the
High Commissioner on Sri Lanka and the Sunday Observer met her at the UN
compound, the day the report was made public in Geneva.
Excerpts of the interview,
Q: Can the consensus resolution by the US override the
recommendations of the Human Rights High Commissioner ? Can they ask
members of the Council to support a domestic mechanism to probe
allegations of war crimes in place of a Hybrid Special Court?
A:It was the Human Rights Council and the States, which
mandated this investigation. They asked us to investigate serious
allegations of human rights and to continue to monitor the situation
including the justice and accountability process. This is what we have
On the basis of our findings, the High Commissioner has made
recommendations which suit the findings as well as the current situation
in Sri Lanka. These have been independently considered and we hope the
States will agree with us and will move forward in keeping with the High
Q: The High Commissioner has recognised that there have been
violations perpetrated by the LTTE as well as the paramilitary forces.
Will there be any action against those people?
A:Absolutely, we are calling for justice and accountability on
all sides no matter, who the perpetrators are regardless of their
positions in society and government . We have documented violations by
both sides- the LTTE, paramilitary groups and the government.
The report talks about serious violations, these are not new to Sri
Lanka, they are described in detail in the Report. Children being
forcefully recruited on their way to school, being snatched away from
their parents and assassinations are some of the most shocking findings.
There are also allegations of sexual violence and torture - about rooms
set up in detention centres that are designated for the use of torture.
Special instruments that were created to conduct sexual torture on
We are asking for accountability on all sides. It doesn't matter what
the political affiliation is.
Q: In a situation where most of the LTTE leaders who
perpetrated alleged war crimes have perished in the final battles, will
there be action against the LTTE international financiers, etc ?
A:Yes, in some cases the quest for justice and accountability
have been hampered because many of the LTTE leadership are either dead
or have disappeared at the end of the conflict. That does seriously
hamper and infringes on the victim's right to justice. But having said
that, there was a case recently in the Hague where fund-raisers for the
LTTE were found guilty, their crimes, even though it was fund-raising,
were associated with war crimes.
There's a lot that can be done. If you are looking at a systemic
approach to justice rather than just looking for individual perpetrators
who were responsible for individual violation.
You go through the structure and tackle the financiers, the
commanders, the people who created the policies which were designed to
commit violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
Because this is such a complex process, we think it is important for
it to have an international component, the Sri Lankan justice system has
not in the past handled crimes of an international nature.
Q: With regard to the state actors, will there be action
against the political leadership also ?
A:The command responsibility will extend to people who gave
orders for a certain policy to be carried out which would violate
international laws, it's not limited to just military operatives, it
could be political operatives as well.
Q: People expected names to be listed in the Report. Why did
it fall short of that?
No it did not fall short, in fact this was meant to be a human rights
investigation, not a criminal investigation, we should be the first to
respect human rights of all, the presumption of innocence is there.
So we could not attribute individual criminal responsibility to a
named person in this Report. But there is evidence here which can be
used to initiate proper criminal investigation, proper prosecutorial
investigations, cross examination of witnesses and all of that.
Q: Will these cases be referred to the ICC at any point ?
A:As I said, the High Commissioner's recommendations are based
on the findings of the Report as well as the current context, and given
all of that, he decided the best way forward at this point in time, is
the creation of the hybrid special court.
So this is where we stand right now. Sri Lanka is at a point where,
there's a lot of hope and we are also encouraged by the signs that we
are seeing with the new government, and we would like everyone to seize
this opportunity, to seize this momentum and take it forward so that we
don't need to talk about what further measures would be taken if there
is no compliance, if there is lack of progress on this, Let's not even
talk about that, let's focus on the hopeful situation that we are in
right now. And build on that momentum.
Q: Now that the High Commissioner's Report is public, what
will be the next sequence of steps?
A:The report was released today, it was shared with the
government a few days in advance. But of course we need to give them
time to really study the recommendations. Their first response has been
a positive one, a one of engagement.
First of all we are calling everyone in Sri Lanka, irrespective of
their ethnic background and political affiliations, to study this Report
in depth. This is a Report for the people of Sri Lanka. We want the
people to understand the findings, understand the analysis and on that
context to look at the recommendations.
The next step following that would be implementation of the
recommendations. This is really a call for speedy action, to conduct the
reforms that are necessary - be it legal reforms, institutional reforms
- and establishment of this court, the truth seeking and truth telling
mechanism. The implementation should be done properly in consultation
with the people who are most affected by it.
The victims on all sides of the conflict need to be involved in the
design of the mechanisms because then they will have ownership over it,
they will have faith in the process and they will speak. Then you are
talking about true justice and accountability.
Q: Are we talking about a panel of judges, sitting and
inviting people to come and testify and put together another report or
is it going to be a criminal investigation?
A:The next step should be a criminal investigation to
establish individual criminal responsibility at all levels including
through the command structure as well. On the exact design of the
mechanism as I said is a matter that needs to be sorted out through
consultation. So we've made a broad recommendation saying what we think
is indispensable, that there needs to be a special court integrating
international judges, prosecutors and investigators. The exact details
will have to be worked out in consultation with all the stake holders.
Q: What will be the sort of punishment meted out to those
found guilty, will it involve prison terms, etc?
A:There are many different models that had been used for the
commission of serious international crime, like war crimes and crimes
There has to be proper judicial process and results of that need to
be based on rule of law, so yes prison terms, etc. But parallel to that
there also needs to be a truth seeking and a reconciliation process.
Q: The imprisonments, if at all will be in Sri Lanka, is it?
Then again it has to be decided in the future.
Q: Has the OHCHR verified the profiles of the victims and
witnesses who were involved in the investigation because there are
claims that some of those people were stage managed ?
A:We are experienced at conducting such investigations, we
have done investigations with or without the cooperation of the
government in different parts of the world. And we have a very stringent
methodology, where we have somebody making an allegation, a lot of
allegations were made that did not make it to this report, because we
were unable to verify them.
Whatever details are in the report, have been corroborated.
Unfortunately, we did not have access to the country. We received, I
think 3000 written submissions and we had access to unpublished reports,
both government and others. We had access to satellite imagery to
photographs and we got forensic specialists to look at the photos and
videos to analyse them for us. And we also conducted interviews. So
whatever victims and witnesses claim has to be corroborated and backed.
And that's the information that you find in the report.
Q: Do you think the US resolution on Lanka, which initially
proposed to support a domestic inquiry by the Sri Lankan government on
outstanding accountability issues will now have a different approach ?
We very much hope so. We hope that they will understand the High
Commissioner's recommendations are based on findings of fact, and legal
analysis and good understanding of the current context, so we hope that
will be recognized and that these recommendations be fully endorsed.
Q: The UN Human Rights High Commissioner has proposed to set
up a permanent Human Rights office in Colombo. What will be the role of
this office ?
One of the recommendations in the High Commissioner's Report is that
the Sri Lankan Government invite the OHCHR to set up an office here,
that's quite an important recommendation, because where ever we are
present, in different parts of the world our presence on the ground
really makes a difference. We are able to advise, on issues, law
reforms, institutional reforms, all of this with the government's
engagement and support.
We are also able to conduct training, for example for the police on
how to make sure that their interrogation methods are in line with human
rights laws and not use torture and give practical tools on how to avoid
that. So there is a lot that can be achieved.