Institutionalized Impunity in Syria and Sri Lanka

Full Text of Delivered by: Tasha Manoranjan of United States Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC) at the 22nd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, Mar 12, 2013:

Item 4: General Debate
Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation

Thank you Mr. President.

The ongoing human rights crisis in Syria has reached a catastrophic level with an estimated 70,000 people killed. The apathy and inaction by some in the international community has allowed the Assad regime to commit crimes against international law with impunity.

When the international community fails to respond meaningfully to governments that systematically assault the basic human dignity of their citizens, impunity for past crimes enables impunity for present crimes. This is emblematic of the humanitarian and political crisis in Sri Lanka, which in many ways served as a precursor for the tragedy now unfolding in Syria.

Tasha Manoranjan at UN, Geneva – Mar 12, 2013

Impunity for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sri Lanka in 2009 has now led to the unconstitutional expansion of the powers of the central government, and the exacerbated deterioration of the rule of law across the country.

According to the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts report, in the final nine months of the civil war in Sri Lanka, tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed, overwhelmingly due to intentional shelling by the Sri Lankan armed forces.[1]

A mere five months ago the report of the Secretary General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka cited credible estimates that over 70,000 Tamil civilians were killed in 2009, and stated, “there can be no lasting peace and stability without dealing with the most serious past violations and without a political response to the aspirations of Sri Lanka’s communities.”[2]

Paralleling this statement, High Commissioner Navi Pillay reported to this Council and identified ongoing human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, detention policies that lack basic procedural safeguards, and gendered violations resulting from continuing militarization.
[3]

As Commissioner Pillay stated, these reports “highlight the urgency of action to combat impunity”.

Yet these abuses by the Sri Lankan government remain unchecked, uninvestigated and unprosecuted.

Sri Lanka’s long history of impunity is structurally institutionalized. Thus, an independent, international Commission of Inquiry is urgently needed to combat Sri Lanka’s cycle of impunity and lay the foundation for a genuine peace.
Thank you, Mr. President.

[1] UN Secretary-General (UNSG), Report of the Secretary General`s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, 31 March 2011, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4db7b23e2.html.

[2] UN Secretary-General (UNSG), Report of the Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka, November 2012, page 29, available at http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/The_Internal_Review_Panel_report_on_Sri_Lanka.pdf.

[3] Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on advice and technical assistance for the Government of Sri Lanka on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka, A/HRC/22/38, 11 February 2013

Video link-click chapter 38