Under the theme ‘Will the delay of the OISL report help the victims?
A meeting was convened by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative under the theme "Will the delay of the OISL report help the victims?", in London last week.
The speakers at the event were Callum Macrae, director of "No Fire Zone", Shivani Jegarajah, Human Rights Barrister in Mansfield Chambers and Kirstry Brimelow, QC, Chair, Bar Human Rights Committee. The meeting was chaired by former BBC Correspondent to Sri Lanka, Frances Harrison.
While introducing the guest speakers, Harrison said that the organisers have contacted the Sri Lankan High Commission in London by e-mail, letter and telephone requesting them to send a representative to the panel, but they were told that the staff was busy. This was why there was no representation on behalf of the Sri Lanka government.
However, Minister for Commonwealth & Media in the Sri Lanka High Commission, Ms. Chamari Rodrigo was in the audience taking notes to send a report to Colombo.
Macrae said that it was no use extending the period for six months to deliver the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) report as there is a huge problem of credibility of a domestic inquiry on the allegations.
If there is to be a genuine domestic inquiry Sri Lanka should sign up to the International Criminal Court. That does not in any way compromise the sovereignty of the country any more than the other 62 odd countries that signed it, he said.
He warned that the new government has to show that something has changed compare to Rajapaksa’s regime before UN’s position changes even by an iota. Otherwise the International community has an obligation and duty to intervene.
Shivani Jegarajah said it was encouraging and promising to see that the new government has swiftly passed the Protection of Crimes & Victims Act in Parliament. But, she said, it will be impossible to complete a domestic inquiry before September. It will be easier for the Sri Lanka government to speed up the process if they link up with the international community by sharing their resources, personnel and expertise.
She said that Prevention of Terrorism Act is a big obstacle and a barrier to hold a domestic inquiry. She said it will be difficult for the Tamil people to engage or interact with the Sri Lanka government if the government labels a person a terrorist or say ‘you are a member of the LTTE’ just because a Tamil attends a Maha Veera Day celebration or become a member of a Tamil organisation such as the British Tamil Forum.
Kirstry Brimelow, QC, explaining the legal position of the UN, which was undisputed by the Sri Lanka government, said that the duty on the State (which is Sri Lanka in this case) to investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and prosecute those responsible. That is fundamental and not picking on one country. She said that there are inquiries ongoing against the UK too for their conduct against Iraq between 2003 and 2009.
She said that the panel of experts report specifically found that there are credible allegations associated with the final stage of the war between September 2008 and May 2009. It found particularly concerning the military campaign in Vanni where increasing number of people were trapped in a smaller area and according to UN figures, there were about 45,000 to 75,000 people killed in that period of 90 days. However, these figures were disputed.
She also said that the report found credible allegations against the LTTE also as they were violating human rights by using people as a human shield, killing civilians attempting to flee LTTE controlled areas, using military equipments within the proximity of civilians, forced recruitment of children, forced labour and killing of civilians through suicide attacks. Those were the potential war crimes against the LTTE.
Allegations against the Sri Lanka government were killing of civilians through widespread shelling, shelling of hospitals and humanitarian objects, denial of humanitarian assistance, human rights violations suffered by victims and survivors of the conflict, human rights violations outside the conflict zone including against the media and the other critics of the government, Brimelow noted. She also referred to an independent survey done by them with the help of the Canadian High Commission using 40 people – both men and women since the end of the war and up to 2014. It found human rights violations were still occurring in Sri Lanka like abductions in white vans and torture.
She also said that most of the countries, including Canada and Switzerland, were happy with the situation in Sri Lanka and it is up to the Sri Lanka government to deliver the goods by September this year.
Sri Lankan Barrister Lalith de Kauwe who was in the audience accused two of the speakers referring to Sri Lanka governments as regimes. He said to even call the newly-elected government a regime shows the prejudices of the speakers.
He said that the answer to Sri Lanka’s problem is not interference from the West or the so-called International Community who are more interested in meddling with other people’s affairs, without looking at their own hypocrisy. "What is necessary in Sri Lanka is to Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher to engage and find a political process right for them", De Kauwe said.