The ABC of OHCHR
The Human Rights Council (HRC) is an inter-governmental body within
the United Nations. Its fundamental duty is to protect and promote human
rights globally according to the Charter of the United Nations. Under
the UN Charter, protecting, promoting and urging respect for human
rights of everyone with no discrimination remains its key operation.
UNHRC Headquarters in
Pic: UN Wire
The HRC, as an inalienable affiliation of UN and its associated
institutions, structures and procedures which are meant to achieve the
above stipulated purposes globally.
All the members of HRC are members of the United Nations and they
comprise 47 Member States as at 2015. The membership is granted for a
term of three years by the UN General Assembly.
The OHCHR stands for the ‘Office of the High Commissioner on Human
The HRC has a powerful and comprehensive human rights mandate. The
OHCHR strongly and objectively speaks against human rights infractions
in the multitudinous international domains. The very global forum,
needed for the identification, highlighting and development responses to
contemporaneous challenges of human rights, is provided by the HRC.
OHCHR’s work has three major dimensions: Standard setting. Monitoring
and implementation on the ground
The operational activity within the above three realms takes place
through the offering of expertise and substantive and secretariat
support to different UN human right bodies, when their standard setting
and monitoring duties are discharged. The HRC endeavours to ensure that
these international human rights standards are implemented on the ground
level through greater country involvement and HRC’s field presences.
The HRC associates itself with governments, civil society,
domestically operative human right establishments, other UN entities,
international organizations, private sector and others.
HRC Resolution on Sri Lanka
There were three resolutions.
The last resolution adopted by HRC relating to Sri Lanka was A/HRC/25/1.
It is dated back to March 2014 and was entitled ‘Promoting
reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’. The HRC
requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to undertake a
comprehensive investigation on alleged serious violations and abuses of
human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka, during the
period, covered by the LLRC. Besides, it has been asked to establish
facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated
to ensure impunity and avoiding accountability.
The High Commissioner was required to present an oral update at the
27th Session of the HRC and a comprehensive report on the investigation
at its 28th Session. Accordingly, the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL),
based in Geneva, was established.
The investigation covered the period beginning from February 21, 2002
and ending on the November 15, 2011. This is the time-frame, covered by
The mandate involves both, the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE.
It delegated power to undertake the investigation on alleged serious
violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes which violate
International Law in general and international Human Right and
Humanitarian Law in particular.
The legal foundation that underlies the prescribed investigation will
comprise all obligations assumed by Sri Lanka under international human
rights treaties and those applicable under customary international law.
The LTTE is a non-state actor and as such, cannot formally become a
party to international human rights treaties. It is now increasingly
accepted that non-state groups exercising de fact control over a part of
the State’s territory must respect certain human rights obligations of
persons in that territory. The investigation mandate also required the
investigative team to apply international criminal law to the incidents
and events under investigation.
The legal ground, on which the UN Resolution is based, is reflected
in Sri Lanka’s engagement in legal reforms, to make the domestic
jurisdiction compatible, to the international legal norms and principles
contained in the global conventions already ratified. The amendment to
the Citizenship Act to enable a child to obtain citizenship through the
mother and the adoption of the Domestic Violence Act are two examples.
Besides, Sri Lanka has already accepted the UN’s right of
scrutinization and acted in compliance with its international human
rights obligations. It is further clarified by Sri Lanka’s long legacy
of submitting reports on periodic reviews, to the UNHRC.
It is noteworthy that both the state actors and non-state actors
under the international humanitarian law are accountable for
In June 2014, the High Commissioner appointed three experts, Martti
Ahtisaari, former President of Finland, Silvia Cartwright, former High
Court judge of New Zealand, and 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.
To establish the facts and circumstances of alleged violations,
abuses and crimes by both parties, the investigative team will conduct a
desk review of existing documents and information. In analyzing the
information collected, it will seek to corroborate facts and accounts to
meet the agreed standard of proof. It will continue to seek to engage
with the Government of Sri Lanka, as envisioned in the Council
The High Commissioner will continue to request the investigative team
to have access to the country to meet with Government officials and
others, as well as to have access to all relevant documentation.
Any state, individual or organization may submit information in
writing to the HRC. The investigative team will take appropriate steps
to address witness and victim protection concerns and shall adopt
procedures and methods of work to protect such persons during all stages
of its work. The resolution mandate strongly requires the Government of
Sri Lanka to protect victims and witnesses and others in Sri Lanka, who
make contact with the team.
The investigative team will take all measures and precautions to
protect the confidentiality of information, including the non-disclosure
of the names of individuals in its public reports. At the end of its
work, the team will archive all its confidential material according to
standard UN procedures.
The investigative team will base its findings on the maxim of
“reasonable grounds to believe” as the standard of proof.
The resolution mandate is rooted in the content that there are
reasonable grounds to believe that an incident or pattern of violations
or crimes occurred, if the team has obtained a reliable body of
information, consistent with other obtained information, indicating
The investigative team will act in compliance with existing
standards. The established content of the standard would require a
reliable body of discovered material, to coincide with the material of
other verified circumstances of perpetrations.
The team will not make final judgments as to criminal guilt; rather,
it would make an assessment of possible suspects that may pave the way
for future criminal investigations. The Council in its resolution called
upon the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate with the Office of the
High Commissioner for Human Rights in the implementation of the
Such cooperation entails freedom of movement throughout the
territory, unhindered access to all places and establishments, freedom
to meet and interview representatives of national, local and military
authorities, community leaders, non-governmental organizations and other
institutions, and any such person whose testimony is considered
necessary for the fulfillment of its mandate as well as free access to
all sources of information, including documentary material and physical
Privileges and facilities
The experts of the investigation shall enjoy the privileges and
immunities accorded to experts on mission, under Article IV of the 1948
Convention, on Privileges and Immunities of the UN and the OHCHR staff
of the investigation shall enjoy the privileges and immunities of
officials under Article V and VII of the Convention. All Governments are
reminded of this obligation and invited to ensure facilities are made
available for the independent conduct of the investigation.