Colombo, October 23 (newsin.asia): The UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees on Non-Recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, said here on Monday, that Transitional Justice is meant for all victims of war irrespective of ethnicity and not just the minority Tamils as is imagined by a wide cross-section of Sri Lankans.
“Those who oppose questions of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence as if they were the subject of a zero sum game, a matter of interest to one community alone, do a great disservice to the country,” de Greiff said at the end of his 14-day tour of Sri Lanka.
“This includes some politicians, members of the media and even some religious leaders who speak as if the measures either target or benefit one group alone.”
Therefore, he suggested that in addition to the Tamil victims during the end of the conflict, a quick list of victims that are still awaiting redress should be drawn. This should include those of the Marxist insurrections; the many victims of terrorist attacks; the family members of the over 600 policemen gruesomely murdered in 1990; and the Muslim population forced out of Jaffna in 1990.
Pablo de Greiff’s remarks come in the light of the fact the majority Sinhalese community thinks that Transitional Justice is meant only to benefit the Tamils ignoring the sufferings inflicted on the Sinhalese by the Tamil terrorists. On the other hand, the Tamils think that they are the sole victims and justice should be done only to them and that the killings of the Tamil terrorists should be brushed under the carpet. And both the Tamils and Sinhalese ignore the Muslims’ plight.
Looking at Transitional Justice as justice for all will help across the board acceptance of it and promote reconciliation, de Greiff said.
No Witch Hunt
The UN official tried to address the erroneous belief among the majority Sinhalese that Transitional Justice with a judicial mechanism as part of it will lead to a “witch hunt” in the Sri Lanka armed forces. This has led to a pledge by Sri Lankan leaders that “war heroes” (soldiers who won the war against terrorism) will not be hauled up before a court especially a court with foreign judges.
Correcting that impression, de Greiff said that Transitional Justice processes do not involve massive purges and do not trade on charges of collective responsibility or guilt by association.
“In this regard I note with concern the rhetoric such as ‘war heroes will be brought to trial,” he said.
Denying that Transitional Justice has an anti-Security Forces agenda, the UN official said that expert investigators know the difference between legitimate use of force and that which is not.
“However, no one who had committed violations of human rights law or laws of war, deserves to be called a war hero,” de Greiff emphasized.
The UN Special Rapporteur regretted that the hybrid Sri Lankan-foreign Judicial Mechanism to try war crimes cases that the Sri Lankan government had agreed to set up, is being held up because of the issue of the nationality of the judges.
“The criterion for appointment of judges should be competence and expertise of the judges in war crimes cases, and not their nationality,” he stressed.
Competence in this field is very limited in the world, de Greiff pointed out. Either the Sri Lankan government should enter into agreements with countries with expertise in this field, or train its own judicial officers in the required skills. But so far, nothing of this sort has been done, he said.
Though the Sri Lankan government is cooperating with the Office of the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, by facilitating visits by Special Rapporteurs, it has regrettably “under-utilized the support offered by the United Nations,” the ranking official pointed out.
Delays To Aggravate Problem
The UN Special Rapporteur said that in 2015, Sri Lanka had given itself two years to achieve a list of Transitional Justice goals. But when it did not implement them, it got two more years. But progress is too slow causing concern and the delay has led to politicization and complication of the issues involved, de Greiff said.
The official stressed the urgency of drawing a time-bound plan for implementation of various aspects of Transitional Justice.
Specifically, personnel should be appointed to the Office of Missing Persons.The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) must be repealed and replaced. Cases under PTA must be concluded fast. Deadlines should be set for release of lands and the armed should not be the sole determinant of decisions on land. A Truth Commission must be set up promptly and the victims must be protected and recompensed.
However de Greiff made it clear that reparations and economic aid alone will not do, justice must be rendered by bringing the perpetrators of human rights violations to book.
He opposed letting the perpetrators off the hook on political grounds. If violence against one group in a specific context is condoned and non-recurrence is not guaranteed, the tendency to be violent will get entrenched and will engulf other groups and other places too in course of time, de Greiff warned.
(The featured image at the tp shows Pablo de Greiff. Photo: CHRGJ)