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How Will India Facilitate a Credible and Independent Investigation in Sri Lanka

How Will India Facilitate a Credible and Independent Investigation in Sri Lanka

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Published by: Thavam on Sep 11, 2013
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09/11/2013

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- on 09/11/2013While domestic politics took centrestage in Delhi this past March with the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK)pulling out of the ruling coalition, far away from the mêlée, at the UNHuman Rights Council’s (HRC) 22nd session in Geneva the Indianrepresentative made some very interesting remarks which gave us aninsight into what the Government of India thought of the human rights andreconciliation process in Sri Lanka. Not known for radically scrutinisingstatements on the international stage, India quietly registered its dismay atthe lack of progress made by Sri Lanka since its commitments at theCouncil in 2009. While urging Sri Lanka to implement recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), India alsomade a strong call for an “independent and credible investigation intoallegations of human rights violations and loss of civilian lives”. The Indianrepresentative added that such measures should be “to the satisfaction of the international community”.With just days to go for the Sri Lanka’s next update at the HRC where theGoSL is expected to update Council members on the progress from the lastsession, there isn’t much hope in terms of encouraging news on the humanrights front. If anything, the recent fact finding visit of the UN Human Rightschief Navi Pillay has only generated more cause for worry. Pillay expressedfears that Sri Lanka was increasingly heading towards authoritarianism witha dangerous erosion of democracy and rule of law. Coming just days aheadof Sri Lanka’s oral submission at the HRC in late September, Pillay’sobservation should give the Indian authorities some more cause for“dismay” and “disappointment”.In light of these bleak developments, those of us in Indian civil society whoclosely follow the developments in Sri Lanka would like to know what theIndian government proposes to do and how it intends to ensure that SriLanka commissions or facilitates an “independent and credibleinvestigation” which as it had stated should be to the satisfaction of theinternational community. All signs coming from Sri Lanka after the end of the war have shown that the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime is not very keen onmoving in the direction of justice and accountability.It has been 4 years since the end of the bloody civil war and during this
 
period the Sri Lankan government has made several promises to conductimpartial investigations and then reneged. It set up the LLRC but therecommendations of this commission made it clear to any rights respectingperson that this was merely a façade and not an honest process.International groups closely following human rights situations in Sri Lankaincluding the UN Panel of Experts, Amnesty International, Human RightsWatch and the International Crisis Group all criticised the LLRC for itslimited mandate, lack of independence and its failure to meet minimuminternational standards. However, what clearly exhibited the Rajapaksaregime’s callousness and general disinterest is how it has refused to evenaccept most of the fairly weak recommendations made by the LLRC.Pillay had remarked that Sri Lanka had a great opportunity to start aninclusive rebuilding process after the end of the world. This is exactly whatthe Indian government and many of Sri Lanka’s friends in the internationalcommunity have been stressing. But how can there be any peace without justice? Are victims and survivors supposed to just forget what happenedand move on? Should those who chose to violate almost every establishedhumanitarian norm during the war be simply given a clean chit as anendorsement of their conduct? A UN panel found credible estimates that asmany as 40,000 civilians had been killed in the final phase of the 2009 war.Can such blatant disregard and disrespect for human rights form the basisfor a new and inclusive Sri Lanka? These are exactly the reasons why India should continue working with theinternational community to press Sri Lanka for a credible and independentinvestigation, which is to the satisfaction of the international community.Being an important regional voice that still retains some influence with itssouthern neighbour, India needs to find ways of engaging with Sri Lanka toensure that a process of transitional justice is at the centre of anyreconciliation efforts.Sri Lanka and its supporters at the international stage have time and againrejected the call for an international investigation into alleged war crimesand crimes against humanity committed during the war. Blanket detractorsshould consider the fact that this call from the international civil societyonly gained prominence after the Sri Lankan authorities failed to undertakeany credible investigation in the last 4 years.India has been hesitant about asking for an international investigation butits statement at the HRC suggesting any domestic process to be to thesatisfaction of the international community reflects the growing realisationwithin the Indian establishment. India should also consider other ways toensure a credible investigative process is undertaken in Sri Lanka whichwould not be seen as impinging Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. The lead up to theCHOGM summit could be an opportune time to promote such an alternativemechanism that could help Sri Lanka meet its international commitments.

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