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AI welcomes calls to probe Sri Lanka

Although OHCHR has offered assistance in a number of areas, including importantly, advice on establishment of a truth-seeking mechanism, the Sri Lankan government has not yet agreed to any technical assistance from OHCHR. And, as the report notes, the Sri Lankan government has failed to agree to requested visits by eight UN special procedures mandate holders: on minority issues; freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; freedom of opinion and expression; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; enforced or involuntary disappearances; human rights defenders; independence of judges and lawyers; and discrimination against women in law and practice. Amnesty International (AI) says it welcomes UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ repeated call for an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international law in Sri LankaAI says a report made public by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) makes clear that Sri Lanka has a lot of work to do when it comes to securing justice, reconciliation and resumption of livelihoods in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s protracted armed conflict. As the OHCHR report emphasizes, continuing reports of extrajudicial killings, abductions and enforced disappearance underscore the urgent need to end impunity in Sri Lanka. But there has really been no progress in that regard at all. Sri Lanka has spent the last year deflecting international criticism and lashing out at its Sri Lankan critics instead of addressing past human rights violations or preventing new ones.Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed concern that the government’s intolerance of dissent, even from those using the country’s judicial system, combined with its unwillingness to rein in abusive members of its security force and political supporters or account for their actions, has led to violations of the right to freedom of expression, undermined rule of law and is derailing post-conflict reconciliation. It also suggests that Sri Lanka may be unwilling to do that work. Sri Lanka’s recent steps toward investigating allegations of serious violations of human rights were described as “inconclusive” and lacking “the independence and impartiality required to inspire confidence.” Meanwhile serious violations of human rights continue to be reported and Sri Lanka had not taken advantage of the UN’s proffered technical assistance aimed at improving the human rights situation in the country. The report notes that both the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers warned that Sri Lanka’s impeachment of the Chief Justice in January “could undermine the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.” The situation has prompted the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to: reiterate her call for an “independent and credible international investigation” into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, which Amnesty International fully supports; and to suggest that that investigation could also serve to monitor any domestic accountability process, should one emerge.The OHCHR report was requested by the Human Rights Council in Resolution 19/2 of March 2012, which called on Sri Lanka to implement recommendations made by its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), to take additional steps ensure justice, equity, accountability and address alleged violations of international law.The Council asked Sri Lanka for a comprehensive action plan to implement the LLRC recommendations. OHCHR and relevant special procedures mandate holders were encouraged to provide Sri Lanka with advice and technical assistance. The Council also asked OHCHR to present a report on the provision of such assistance to the Council at its 22nd session, which starts on 25 February 2013. In the report, the High Commissioner for Human Rights endorses the views expressed by many stakeholders in Sri Lanka, including prominent community leaders, about the important contribution made by the Human Rights Council in raising issues of accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, and creating a space for debate within Sri Lanka.Amnesty International says it joins the High Commissioner in encouraging the Council to maintain and build on this momentum. The Human Rights Council should establish a Council mechanism devoted to monitoring and reporting to the Council on the current human rights situation in Sri Lanka and should throw its support behind growing demands for an independent international investigation into allegations of crimes under international law committed in Sri Lanka. read more

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Sudan witness protection vital for probe into Darfur rights abuses UN reports

“From this overall picture we have identified particularly grave events, involving high numbers of killings, mass rapes and other forms of extremely serious gender violence and other crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court,” Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told the 15-member body, noting the first steps “towards a cooperative relationship” with the Government. The Council called for an ICC probe in Darfur, where tens of thousands of people have been killed and 2 million more displaced in two years of fighting between the Government, pro-government militias and rebels, after an earlier enquiry set up by Secretary-General Kofi Annan found there had been war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both sides, but primarily by Government forces and militias.“We still have very serious problems in Darfur,” Mr. Annan said after today’s Council meeting, stressing the need to bring to account those who committed crimes. “We have criminal elements; we have violence; we have attacks on humanitarian activities. There are some areas where our humanitarian people cannot go and therefore the Government and the rebels have to honour the ceasefire agreement they signed and take all measures to ensure security and protection of the people in the region.”Mr. Ocampo termed witness protection “an issue of paramount concern to the ICC,” noting that continuing insecurity, which prevented him and his team from so far visiting Darfur, also prohibited the establishment of an effective system for protecting victims and witness.“Despite these limitations significant progress has been made in the investigation,” he said, adding that well over 100 potential witnesses in 17 countries had been screened and that he had visited Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, for contacts with the Government. “We have a road map now,” he told reporters later.“Having made the first steps towards a cooperative relationship, during the next phase the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) will seek further assistance and cooperation of the Government in relation to the process of fact-finding and evidence gathering. This cooperation will be essential,” he said in the report.Asked by reporters about Government cooperation, the Council President for December, Emyr Jones Parry of the United Kingdom said: “We will judge the Government of Sudan by its actions.“If it becomes apparent that the Prosecutor is not receiving the cooperation that we expect from the Government, then the Council will have such a report from the Prosecutor, and will need to respond to that, and we will respond to that. At the moment that’s hypothetical,” he added.“In terms of what the Prosecutor is saying now on the basis of the contacts which took place last month in Khartoum, things are reasonable and progressing.”The Council repeated again the need to end impunity, prevent atrocities and ensure that those involved are brought to justice, Mr. Jones Parry said.“Our discussions this morning confirm that the Prosecutor is in close cooperation with the Government of Sudan, that those discussions are proceeding so far well. The Council expects them to be maintained so that any cooperation that the Prosecutor expects from that Government should be forthcoming, especially on the question of access to witnesses.”Meanwhile, Mr. Annan’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, reported that he believed it was still possible to have a framework agreement in the conflict by the end of the year. The various sides are now meeting in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.On the ground in Darfur, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reported that the security situation remained tense, with increasing banditry. Tribal clashes have been reported in West Darfur, where some roads remain closed for UN movement due to insecurity. Some UN flights are also suspended in West Darfur. read more

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