What just happened in Geneva?

Oct 1, 2015

Today the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted resolution 30/1 on accountability in Sri Lanka.

You can read the final text here. So is this good news or bad news? It is actually quite difficult to say.

This resolution could lead to a very strong justice process or a very very weak process; it will all depend on how it is implemented.

HRC30 res 30/29 OISL

In particular it depends on how serious the Government of Sri Lanka is about giving the survivors of Sri Lanka’s civil war a real voice. The Government have committed to “consult”, but if this is a tick-box exercise in which the Government presents its predetermined plans then the process will fail. What is needed is a real conversation with survivors on all sides which leads to a process they helped shape, and in which they will play a major role.

This resolution mandates a justice mechanism featuring international judges, prosecutors, investigators, and defence lawyers. It does not say how many or how they should be appointed. This process is only going to work if the international involvement is sufficient, and sufficiently independent, to win over the trust of survivors – many of whom wanted a fully international mechanism.

HRC30 res 30/29 OISL

This resolution calls for witness protection but is nonspecific as to how. Given the many incidents of sexual violence and murder of potential witnesses, even under this current Government, it might not be safe for survivors to participate in any sort of justice mechanism unless the Government of Sri Lanka accepts the offer of international assistance present in this resolution, and allows an international witness protection mechanism.

Meaningful consultation, a strong international element, proper witness protection. These are the benchmarks against which Sri Lanka’s accountability mechanism will be measured in the months to come. They all represent ways in which the true benchmark – if this process enjoys the confidence of victims on both sides – can be measured.

HRC30 res 30/29 OISL

A successful process will finally see justice for the tens of thousands killed, and a chance for lasting peace in Sri Lanka. An unsuccessful process will inevitably lead – at best – back to the Human Rights Council once again, and – at worst – eventually back to inevitable further war.

Over the next few weeks and months we will be working, both to ensure that mechanism is as strong as it can be, and to hold it to account: to measure it against those benchmarks, and to ensure that any failure leads to further international action. We will soon be launching new campaigns to that end.