UN rights chief requests ‘one time only’ deferral of key report on Sri Lanka conflict

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Geneva, 16 February 2015 – At the request of the top United Nations rights official, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council today agreed to temporarily hold off its consideration of a long-awaited report into alleged rights violations during the conflict in Sri Lanka for six months, until September 2015.

Explaining his “difficult decision,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a press release issued by his Office that the deferral of the report was “for one time only,” and guaranteed that the report would be published by September.

His request for deferral was granted by the Council on Monday afternoon.

“There should be no misunderstanding,” Mr. Zeid said. “I give my personal, absolute and unshakable commitment that the report will be published by September.”

He said that there are good arguments for sticking to the original timetable, and there are also strong arguments for deferring the report’s consideration a bit longer, given the changing context in Sri Lanka, and the possibility that important new information may emerge which will strengthen the report.”

In addition, the High Commissioner said he has received clear commitments from the new Government of Sri Lanka indicating it is prepared to cooperate with my Office on a whole range of important human rights issues – which the previous Government had absolutely refused to do – and I need to engage with them to ensure those commitments translate into reality.”

Mr. Zeid noted that the three distinguished experts, appointed by his predecessor Navi Pillay to advise the investigation, had informed him that, in their unanimous view, a one-off temporary deferral would be the best option to allow space for the new Government to show its willingness to cooperate on human rights issues.

“Taking all this into account, I have therefore decided, on balance, to request more time to allow for a stronger and more comprehensive report,” he said, underscoring that he is acutely aware that many victims of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, including those who bravely came forward to provide information to the inquiry team, might see the deferral as the first step towards shelving, or diluting, a report they long feared they would never see.

“I fully understand those fears and deep anxieties, given the history of failed or obstructed domestic human rights inquiries in Sri Lanka, and the importance of this international investigation being carried out by my team at the UN Human Rights Office.”

Mr. Zeid gave his personal, absolute and unshakable commitment that the report will be published by September.

“Like my predecessors, I believe that one of the most important duties of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is to act as a strong voice on behalf of victims. I want this report to have the maximum possible impact in ensuring a genuine and credible process of accountability and reconciliation in which the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparations are finally respected,” he declared.

In March 2014, the 47-member UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution which requested the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) “to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” which examined the last years of the armed conflict.”

The Council requested OHCHR to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations, and of the crimes perpetrated, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability,” with assistance from relevant experts. An expert panel was set up in late June and OHCHR was to present a comprehensive report on its findings in March 2015.