UN investigators pledge protection for witnesses, urges Govt. to do the same

Tuesday, 5 August 2014 01:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • OHCHR Investigation on SL to cover February 2002-November 2011 period
  • Investigators invite written submissions from states, individuals or organisations
  • Deadline for submissions 30 October 2014
By Dharisha Bastians The UN team investigating alleged rights abuses during the last years of the war has pledged to keep information confidential and urged the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its obligation to protect witnesses and others who make contact with the international investigators. Announcing its terms of reference and methodology yesterday the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation (OHCHR) on Sri Lanka said the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) would take ‘appropriate steps’ to protect those giving testimony and address victim protection concerns. “The Government of Sri Lanka also has an obligation to protect victims and witnesses and others in Sri Lanka who make contact with the OISL, and it will be requested to make an undertaking that no such person shall, as a result of such contact, suffer harassment, threats, acts of intimidation, ill-treatment or reprisals,” the OHCHR said on its official website announcing the modalities of the probe yesterday. The OISL will take “all necessary measures” to protect confidentiality, the UN said, by not disclosing the names of individuals in its public reports. The probe team will continue to seek to engage with the Government of Sri Lanka and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will continue to request for the OISL to have access to the country to meet with Government officials and others, the OHCHR said. The OISL, which will be based in Geneva, will cover a time frame previously covered by the Government’s LLRC, from 21 February 2002-15 November 2011, when the Commission presented its report to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The investigators will also consider any “contextual or other relevant information” that may fall outside that time frame, “which may provide a better understanding of events or which may be pertinent regarding continuing human rights violations,” the UN said. During the probe, UN investigators will conduct a ‘desk review’ of existing documents and information, including Government and civil society reports, collect and document victims’ testimonies and the accounts of survivors, witnesses and alleged perpetrators, as well as seeking information from other relevant sources such as satellite images, authenticated video and photographic material and official documents. “In analysing the information collected, it will seek to corroborate facts and accounts to meet the agreed standard of proof,” the UN said. The UN has invited any state individual or organisation to submit information in writing to the OISL. The deadline for written submissions expires on 30 October 2014. The OHCHR said that the legal framework that underlies the investigation will comprise of all obligations assumed by Sri Lanka under international human rights treaties and those applicable under customary international law. “Although a non-state actor cannot formally become party to human rights treaties, it is now increasingly accepted that non-state groups exercising de facto control over a part of the State’s territory must respect certain human rights obligations of persons in that territory,” the UN said in clear reference to abuses committed by the LTTE. “In carrying out its work, the OISL will be guided at all times by the principles of independence, impartiality, objectivity, transparency, integrity and “do no harm”,” the OHCHR said.