As Sri Lanka’s international allies are busy in Geneva passing yet another resolution, giving two more years for Colombo to implement in full the 2015 October UN resolution, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has firmly rejected foreign judges in a war crimes panel- a key element in the resolution.
Responding to question by Dinesh Gunawardena – a Mahinda Rajapaksa-loyalist group MP, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said in parliament on Tuesday (March 21) that Sri Lanka would not join the International Criminal Court (ICC), or include foreign judges in Sri Lanka’s judicial mechanism.
“We will not join the ICC. It is against the policy of the whole of South Asia. We will not include foreign judges in the judicial process,” Prime Minister said emphatically, giving as proof of his intent a statement made earlier this month in which he pointed out that the inclusion of foreign judges in Sri Lanka’s judicial process was not feasible.
The Sri Lankan Prime Minister has made this statement at a time when the US, UK, Macedonia and Monte Negro are working on passing a roll over resolution that want Sri Lanka to implement the October 2015 resolution within another two years.
This is despite the call by the war victims in the island’s embattled north and the east “not to give Sri Lanka time”.
“I have said it is not feasible, the President has said it will not happen – what are you afraid of?” he asked the Joint Opposition, blaming the pro-Rajapaksa group that the Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka – had come about under the previous government.
“We will not include foreign judges. We may have foreign experts and observers as resource persons but Sri Lankan judicial mechanism will not allow foreign judges – it is not permitted under the constitution.”
The UN Human Rights Chief on March 3 said Sri Lanka’s progress in implementing the UN resolution of 2015 October has been “worryingly slow” and warned that the lack of a comprehensive strategy “to address accountability for past crimes risk derailing the momentum towards lasting peace, reconciliation and stability”.
Releasing a hard-hitting report, UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that the structures set up and measures taken by the government of Sri Lanka “until now have been inadequate, lacked coordination and a sense of urgency”.
“The Government has advanced on constitutional reforms and showcased some positive developments on the broader human rights agenda. The fulfilment of transitional justice commitments has, however, been worryingly slow, and the structures set up and measures taken during the period under review were inadequate to ensure real progress,” he said.
Directly coming hard on President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for rejecting the spirit and provisions of the UN resolution especially on accountability issues, Prince Zaid said that their public messaging around transitional justice and reconciliation “has been generally confusing and at times contradictory”.
“Unclear and often contradictory messages have been delivered on transitional justice mechanisms by the President, the Prime Minister and various members of the Cabinet. Similar contradictions are visible in policy development,” the report said.
The report makes a number of concrete recommendations, including calling on the Government to embrace the report of the Consultation Task Force (CTF) to formulate a communications campaign to inform the public about details of the reconciliation agenda. The CTF’s report based on its island-wide consultations recommended for international judges in accountability mechanism.
Prince Zeid also urged Sri Lanka to invite the UN Human Rights Office to establish a presence in Sri Lanka, to give the highest priority to the restitution of all private land that has been occupied by the military, and to adopt legislation establishing a hybrid court “which should include international judges, defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators” to investigate violations of international human rights laws and try those responsible “promptly and effectively”.