On the 1st November 2012, the Human Rights Council will review the human rights practices of Sri Lanka, as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). On November 5th, the UPR report will be publicly released. The UPR mechanism is an important tool aimed to monitor compliance of states to their international human rights obligations.
Action contre la Faim (ACF) and SPEAK call upon the UN to launch an international and independent investigation to finally bring to justice those responsible for the murders of 17 aid workers in Sri Lanka.
On August 4th, 2006, armed men stormed ACF’s offices in Muttur, forced 17 staff members on to their knees and executed each of them with a bullet to the back of the head. This massacre accounts for the most serious crime ever committed against humanitarian workers.
What happened since?
Unfortunately, not much can be said about the evolution of the situation. Six years after the execution of our colleagues, no-one has been charged for this crime.
Allegedly, three national investigations have been launched into this crime. In reality, the investigations have been a succession of obstruction, interference of politics in the judiciary and a lack of transparency and independence.
The whole aftermath of the massacre has been plagued with procedural irregularities and depicts the lack of political willingness to carry out an impartial, independent and transparent investigation that shall guarantee the successful prosecution of those perpetrators.
Yet, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) continuously reiterated their apparent commitment to bring the perpetrators to justice. Following the 2008 UPR report, the GoSL agreed to a certain amount of recommendations. Of particular interest, the recommendation A-15 required Sri Lanka to “ensure the adequate completion of investigations into the killings of aid workers, including by encouraging the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to use its legal investigative powers to their full extent”. The recommendation was never implemented.
Interestingly, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s report (LLRC), released in December 2011, urged the implementation of similar recommendations made by the Presidential Commission – Commission inherently flawed and strongly criticised by the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) and the UN Panel of Experts, which report was never publicly disclosed.
2012 – Impunity still prevails
The Human Rights Council’s March 2012 resolution on “Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka” requested the government to present a “comprehensive action plan […] to implement the recommendations made in the Commission’s [LLRC] report and also to address alleged violations of international law”. The government’s “national action plan”, released in late July 2012, encompasses again the specific recommendation on the Muttur massacre. Strangely, the implementation of the recommendation is stated “on-going” despite the absence of benchmarks and means of measurement for its effective implementation. Regarding the personnel in charge of follow-up of the investigation, no information is presently available. Consequently, it is impossible for ACF to assess whether previously identified conflicts of interest and irregularities have been addressed; and in what conditions evidence and testimonies would be collected or under which jurisdiction the case would be brought.
The total lack of transparency around this so-called new investigation shows lessons from previous failures have not been learnt and there remains a total lack of willingness from the Government of Sri Lanka to find and prosecute the perpetrators of this crime.
Supporting an International and Independent Investigation
ACF believes that yet another national investigation cannot be compatible with established norms and standards of international law and will only cause more suffering for the families. Without involvement of the international community, justice will never be served.
Member states of the Human Rights Council need to demand immediate action from the GoSL. During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on November 1st and in the run up to its March 2013 session, in light of the failure of the GoSL to ensure domestic accountability, ACF and SPEAK ask the Council Members:
1. to request the Sri Lankan authorities to provide credible evidence of new and independent investigations on the case, based on internationally recognised standards of law (as per the Action Plan to implement the LLRC);
2. to set up an independent body of international experts having the required competence and mandated to monitor and conduct a thorough investigation followed by efficient prosecution.