• UN report confirms patterns of grave violations

    From newsbug@21:1/5 to All on Fri Sep 18 13:14:17 2015
    Zeid urges creation of hybrid special court in Sri Lanka as UN report
    confirms patterns of grave violations

    Sinhala and Tamil versions

    GENEVA (16 September 2015) – A UN report* published today has
    identified patterns of grave violations in Sri Lanka between 2002 and
    2011, strongly indicating that war crimes and crimes against humanity
    were most likely committed by both sides to the conflict. The report
    recommends the establishment of a hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, as an
    essential step towards justice.

    “Our investigation has laid bare the horrific level of violations and
    abuses that occurred in Sri Lanka, including indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, harrowing accounts of
    torture and sexual violence, recruitment of children and other grave
    crimes,” High Commissioner Zeid said. “Importantly, the report reveals violations that are among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”

    “This report is being presented in a new political context in Sri
    Lanka, which offers grounds for hope,” Zeid said. “It is crucial that
    this historic opportunity for truly fundamental change is not allowed
    to slip.”

    Among the most serious crimes documented in the report are the

    · Unlawful killings: Numerous unlawful killings between 2002 and 2011,
    were allegedly committed by both parties, as well as by paramilitary
    groups linked to the security forces. Tamil politicians, humanitarian
    workers, journalists and ordinary civilians were among the alleged
    victims of Sri Lankan security forces and associated paramilitaries.
    There appear to have been discernible patterns of killings, for
    instance, in the vicinity of security force checkpoints and military
    bases, and also of extrajudicial killings of individuals while in the
    custody of security forces, including people who were captured or
    surrendered at the end of the conflict. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil
    Elam (LTTE) also reportedly killed Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese
    civilians, through indiscriminate suicide bombings and mine attacks,
    as well as assassinations of individuals including public officials,
    academics and dissenting Tamil political figures.

    · Sexual and gender-based violence: One shocking finding of the
    investigation was the extent to which sexual violence was committed
    against detainees, often extremely brutally, by the Sri Lankan
    security forces, with men as likely to be victims as women. Harrowing
    testimony from 30 survivors of sexual violence who were interviewed
    indicates that incidents of sexual violence were not isolated acts but
    part of a deliberate policy to inflict torture, following similar
    patterns and using similar tools. The report describes sexual torture
    which occurred during interrogation sessions, and also patterns of
    rape, much of which appeared to occur outside of interrogations
    sessions. Sexual torture was performed in a wide range of detention
    locations by different security forces, both during and after the
    conflict. Not a single perpetrator of sexual violence related to the
    armed conflict is so far known to have been convicted.

    · Enforced disappearances: Enforced disappearances affected tens of
    thousands of Sri Lankans for decades, including throughout the 26-year
    armed conflict with the LTTE. There are reasonable grounds to believe
    that enforced disappearances may have been committed as part of a
    widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population. 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. Many others,
    including people not directly linked to the conflict, disappeared,
    typically after abduction in ‘white vans.’

    · Torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment:
    Brutal use of torture by the Sri Lankan security forces was widespread throughout the decade covered by the report, and in particular during
    the immediate aftermath of the conflict. Some of the more commonly
    used centres had rooms that were set up with torture equipment,
    illustrating the premeditated and systematic nature of the use of
    torture. These rooms contained objects including metal bars and poles
    for beatings, barrels of water used for waterboarding, and pulleys
    from which victims were suspended. Victims interviewed for the report
    described seeing bloodstains on the walls or floors of these rooms,
    and described their own torture in detail.

    · Recruitment of children and their use in hostilities, as well as
    abduction and forced recruitment of adults: Information indicates
    patterns of abductions leading to forced recruitment of adults by the
    LTTE, which intensified towards the end of the conflict. Extensive
    recruitment and use of children in armed conflict by the LTTE and by
    the paramilitary Karuna group, which supported the Government
    following its spilt from the LTTE in 2004, was also documented.
    Children were often recruited by force from homes, schools, temples
    and checkpoints, and, after basic training were sent to the
    frontlines. According to numerous reports, in the last few months of
    the conflict, the LTTE increasingly recruited children below the age
    of 15. These practices would amount to war crimes if established in a
    court of law.

    · Attacks on civilians and civilian objects: There are reasonable
    grounds to believe that many attacks during the last phase of the war
    did not comply with international humanitarian law principles on the
    conduct of hostilities, particularly the principle of distinction. The
    report documents repeated shelling by Government forces of hospitals
    and humanitarian facilities in the densely populated ‘No Fire Zones,’
    which the Government itself had announced but which were inside areas controlled by the LTTE. Directing attacks against civilian objects
    and/or against civilians not taking direct part in hostilities is a
    serious violation of international humanitarian law and may amount to
    a war crime. The presence of LTTE cadres directly participating in
    hostilities and operating within the predominantly civilian
    population, launching attacks from close proximity of these locations,
    and the LTTE policy of forcing civilians to remain within areas of
    active hostilities, may also have violated international humanitarian
    law. However, this would not have absolved the Government of its own responsibilities under international humanitarian law. The duty to
    respect international humanitarian law does not depend on the conduct
    of the opposing party, and is not conditioned on reciprocity.

    · Denial of humanitarian assistance: There are reasonable grounds to
    believe that the Government placed considerable restrictions on
    freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel and activities, and may
    have deliberately blocked the delivery of sufficient food aid and
    medical supplies in the Vanni in the Northern Province, which may
    amount to the use of starvation of the civilian population as a method
    of warfare. Such conduct, if proven in a court of law, may constitute
    a war crime.

    · Violations during the detention of internally displaced people
    (IDPs) in closed camps: The manner in which the screening processes
    were carried out, to separate former LTTE combatants from civilians,
    failed to meet international standards and facilitated ill-treatment
    and abuse. Almost 300,000 IDPs were deprived of their liberty in camps
    for periods far beyond what is permissible under international law.
    There are also reasonable grounds to believe that IDPs were treated as
    suspects and detained because of their Tamil ethnicity. This may
    amount to discrimination and the crime against humanity of

    The report documents years of denials and cover-ups, failure to carry
    out prompt investigations, stalled investigations and reprisals
    against the family members of victims and others who have pushed for

    It notes that the repeated failure of successive domestic inquiries to
    bring justice has led to scepticism, anger and mistrust on the part of
    victims, particularly since “many of the structures responsible for
    the violations and crimes remain in place.” The report demonstrates
    the systemic weakness in addressing these crimes, especially when the
    military or security forces are involved. It also describes “reprisals
    against judicial and other professionals who try to prosecute
    human-rights related cases involving State officials.”

    “The commitment by the new Government to pursue accountability through
    a domestic process is commendable…but the unfortunate reality is that
    Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system is not yet ready,” the report
    states. “First and foremost is the absence of any reliable system for
    victim and witness protection. Second is the inadequacy of Sri Lanka’s
    domestic legal framework to deal with international crimes of this
    magnitude. The third challenge is the degree to which Sri Lanka’s
    security sector and justice system have been distorted and corrupted
    by decades of emergency, conflict and impunity.”

    The High Commissioner welcomed the positive steps taken by the new
    Government of President Mathiripala Sirisena since January this year,
    but said that “Sri Lanka must now move forward to dismantle the
    repressive structures and institutional cultures that remain deeply
    entrenched after decades of erosion of human rights.”

    “This will not happen overnight, and no one should underestimate the
    enormity of the task,” he said. “We have seen many moments in Sri
    Lanka’s history when governments pledged to turn the page and end
    practices like enforced disappearances, but the failure to address
    impunity and root out the systemic problems that allowed such abuses
    to occur meant that the ‘white vans’ could be, and were, reactivated
    when needed. It is imperative that the Government seizes the unique
    opportunity it has to break the mold of impunity once and for all.
    This means there must be a root-and-branch transformation of the ways
    in which institutions and officials operate.”

    The report recommends a range of measures to develop a comprehensive transitional justice policy to address the human rights violations of
    the past 30 years and prevent their recurrence.

    The High Commissioner urged all communities and sections of society,
    including the diaspora, to view the report as “an opportunity to
    change discourse from one of absolute denial to one of acknowledgment
    and constructive engagement to bring about change.”

    “After so many years of unbridled human rights violations and
    institutionalized impunity, the wounds of victims on both sides have
    festered and deepened,” Zeid said. “Unless fundamentally addressed,
    their continued suffering will further polarize and become an obstacle
    to reconciliation, and – worse – may sow the seeds for further

    “The levels of mistrust in State authorities and institutions by broad
    segments of Sri Lankan society should not be underestimated,” the High Commissioner said. “It is for this reason that the establishment of a
    hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors,
    lawyers and investigators, is so essential. A purely domestic court
    procedure will have no chance of overcoming widespread and justifiable suspicions fuelled by decades of violations, malpractice and broken

    “The domestic criminal justice system also needs to be strengthened
    and reformed, so it can win the confidence of the public, but that is
    a process which will take several years to achieve and needs to be
    undertaken in parallel to the establishment of a special hybrid court,
    not in place of it. Indeed such a court may help stimulate the reforms
    needed to set Sri Lanka on a new path to justice, building public
    confidence along the way.”

    The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) was mandated by the UN Human Rights
    Council last year to conduct a comprehensive investigation into
    alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related
    crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period 2002-11. The investigation report is based on eye-witness testimony, interviews
    with victims and witnesses, video and photographic material including
    satellite imagery (much of which is not in the public domain) that was
    analyzed by forensic and military experts, and an extensive review of documentation, including about 3,000 written statements and
    submissions, as well as previously unpublished reports. The OHCHR
    investigation team was not granted access to Sri Lanka and faced other constraints, including the previous Government’s use of threats,
    intimidation and surveillance to prevent people, particularly in the
    north of the country, from cooperating with the investigation.

    * The report is divided into two parts which are interlinked:
    1) The overarching Report of the Office of the United Nations High
    Commissioner for Human Rights on Promoting Reconciliation,
    Accountability and Human Rights (A/HRC/30/61) which can be found here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session30/Documents/A_HRC_30_61_ENG.docx
    2) The accompanying report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (A/HRC/30/CRP.2) which can be found here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session30/Documents/A_HRC_30_CRP_2.docx

    The response sent by the Sri Lankan Government can be found here: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/OISL/ResponseSriLanka15092015.pdf


    For more information, please contact:
    In Geneva: Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or
    Pam O’Toole (+41 79 752 04 50 / mediaconsultant@ohchr.org) or Cécile
    Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)
    In Colombo: Ravina Shamdasani (+41 79 201 0115 or +94 77 448 1925 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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    Check the Universal Human Rights Index:http://uhri.ohchr.org/en
    - See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16432&LangID=E#sthash.Y2Q5PI2s.dpuf

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