The ongoing visit to Sri Lanka by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has brought mixed expectations, particularly from international human rights groups and the Tamil Diaspora.
Leading international human rights groups told The Sunday Leader they expect Zeid to raise key issues including for the government to reaffirm its commitments and to make substantial progress on a justice mechanism for past crimes committed by government forces and the LTTE.
The New York based Human Rights Watch, which has played a key role at the UN Human Rights Council in pushing for international attention on the Sri Lankan issue, said that while the government has made important strides, a lot remains to be done.
“The Sri Lankan government has made important strides in its first year in office, but there is still a lot to be done to address the terrible legacy of the Rajapaksa period. The High Commissioner is arriving at a time when senior government leaders, including the president, are calling into question their commitment to the Human Rights Council resolution – one that Sri Lanka co-sponsored. Zeid will be calling on the government to reaffirm its commitments and to make substantial progress on a justice mechanism for past crimes committed by government forces and the LTTE,” Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams told The Sunday Leader.
He said Human Rights Watch also expects Zeid to raise the need for an effective witness protection plan, rapid progress on the fate of the disappeared, repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, restoring land taken during the armed conflict, and ending police abuse of Sri Lankan citizens.”
Another leading human rights group, Amnesty International, which has also been very vocal on the Sri Lankan issue, said that the victims must feel the accountability process is credible and transparent.
“High Commissioner Zeid’s visit could not come at a more important time for Sri Lanka. Although we’ve seen some notable improvements on human rights over the past year, the issue of accountability for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict years has yet to be addressed. This is a key opportunity for Zeid to push the Sri Lankan government to engage with the international community on a process that can genuinely provide victims and family members with truth and justice. It’s all the more important now as the consultation process is underway that victims feel this is a credible and transparent process, “Olof Blomqvist, Press Officer Asia/Pacific at Amnesty International told The Sunday Leader.
Meanwhile the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), a London based powerful Tamil diaspora group, said that Reid has the difficult task, after recommending a hybrid court, to at least ensure Sri Lanka agrees to a local mechanism with international or commonwealth collaboration.
GTF President, Father S. J. Emmanuel said that the Tamil Diaspora are not pushing for Sri Lanka to be punished as Sri Lanka is also their motherland, but only cry for truth, justice and accountability.
He told The Sunday Leader that Sri Lanka must be subjected to enough pressure to change for the better and to treat all citizen equally.
The National Peace Council (NPC) feels the High Commissioner must convince the government that there is a need for more messages of care that would demonstrate to the Tamil people that they are not marginalized.
The Executive Director of the National Peace Council, Dr. Jehan Perera said that the singing of the national anthem in Tamil was a great message of care from the government that indicated to the Tamil speaking people that they were a part of the national polity.
“This was a very moving moment that would help to give hope in the reconciliation process. Some other key areas for the government to tackle would be release of land taken over by the military, release of detained persons who have been incarcerated without charge for many years and ascertaining the fate of missing persons. Immediate steps taken in these areas would increase the trust and confidence of the Tamil people in the commitment of the government to resolve their problems and treat them as equal citizens,” he said.
Dr. Perera said Zeid could make it clear to the government that the UNHRC resolution and the concept of transitional justice is more than only accountability for war crimes, but is more than that, and it includes reparations which could be given the central place at this time.
“The focus on reparations to war victims, and the trust and confidence this would generate amongst the Tamil people, would also give the government more time and space to deal with the controversial and sensitive issues of post-war accountability,” he said. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)