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UN And Lanka Probe Must Cooperate “ Amnesty International

2014 Aug 22

As the Government and the United Nations proceed with their respective investigations on the war in Sri Lanka, the London based human rights group, Amnesty International’s (AI) Yolanda Foster from the Asia Programme of AI, feels both should cooperate in order to establish the truth over the war. – Excerpts of the interview:

By Easwaran Ratnam

Q: The Sri Lankan Government is yet to set a time frame by when it will conclude investigations by its commission on the war. Will confidence on the probe further erode as a result?

A: It would be helpful to know the time frame, and if the process is extremely protracted, of course that will erode confidence. There have already been substantial delays in addressing alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. The more important question is whether justice will be served. Sri Lanka has a bad track record when it comes to implementing recommendations of ad hoc commissions of inquiry – particularly ensuring that perpetrators of grave abuses identified by these inquiries are prosecuted and punished.

Q: How can the government win the confidence of the international community and organisations such as AI with regard to the commitment it says it has on investigating the war?

A: Political and financial independence are critically important, as is an effective system of witness protection. None of Sri Lanka’s previous Presidential Commissions of Inquiry have been sufficiently independent or protective of witnesses. Another key question is whether investigations will recognize command responsibility. Will the commission investigate and recommend prosecution of all those found responsible for violations regardless of their rank or status, including senior officers in positions of command who knew or should have known about violations and did not take measures to prevent them or punish those responsible?

Q: Apart from the war, the issue of Sri Lanka deporting Pakistani and Afghan asylum seekers is now in the spotlight. Will this hurt Sri Lanka’s chances of saving face following the war allegations?

A: Sri Lankan authorities have displayed a disregard for their obligations under international law and the rights of refugees by deporting Pakistani asylum seekers. A number of family members contacted Amnesty International following recent round ups of Pakistanis as they are frightened of persecution of their relatives on return. It’s a great shame that Sri Lanka has refused to provide the opportunity to claim asylum and seek protection.

Q: What is your view on the terms of reference announced by OHCHR for its probe on Sri Lanka. Any shortcomings?

A: Obviously it would be preferable if investigators had access to witnesses in Sri Lanka, and could guarantee that there would not be retaliation against those who provided evidence. Given the scale of reported violations and the potentially large volume of evidence, we hope UN investigators will have sufficient time to adequately analyze it and draw their conclusions.

Q: Is there room for the domestic and UN led probe to work hand in hand?

A: Amnesty International has repeatedly urged the Sri Lankan authorities to cooperate with the UN Investigation. If Sri Lanka’s newly announced investigation of alleged war crimes is a genuine attempt to establish the truth and ensure justice, then it would stand to reason that the two should cooperate

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