Analysis

Tutu to the UN: Sri Lanka needs healing

Desmond Tutu

In a letter to the UN, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, representing human rights activists, has appealed for a commission of inquiry in Sri Lanka.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. (AFP)

We, concerned individuals and organisations from around the world, urge the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to use their March 2014 session to pass a resolution that will include a commitment to an independent international investigation in the form of a commission of inquiry in Sri Lanka. Only this will help put the country on the path to justice and reconciliation. 

Although the long-running civil war ended in May 2009, a lasting peace is not in sight and we remain gravely concerned for the future of the people of Sri Lanka. A fear and sense of injustice persists, not just among minorities and political activists, but among ordinary people desperately trying to rebuild their lives. A number of unresolved issues remain, including ongoing human rights violations, credible allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and the lack of progress towards longer-term political solutions and reconciliation. Left unaddressed, these issues could lead to renewed conflict.

Post-conflict processes do take time, but what matters is getting on the right path. Nearly five years after the war ended, the situation appears to be getting worse, not better.

The biggest issue Sri Lanka faces is a systemic lack of respect for the rights of its citizens, particularly – but not exclusively – its minority citizens. This is rooted in a culture of impunity that is in turn rooted in a failure to hold to account those, on both sides, who committed some of the worst atrocities this century.

Only an independent international investigation of these atrocities will end this culture of impunity and give the people of Sri Lanka a chance to climb out of the cycle of violence towards a lasting peace. For these reasons, there have been numerous calls over the years for such an investigation: from a renowned panel of experts appointed by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, from UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay, from a host of Sri Lankan and international individuals, nongovernmental organisations, and politicians, and from many thousands of petitioners all over the world.

We represent organisations and individuals in many countries. The Sri Lankan government claims that attempts to set up an international inquiry in Sri Lanka come exclusively from the West, and represent a form of imperialism. Not so. Many of us come from countries that have also seen conflict, and attempts at reconciliation after it. We know Sri Lanka is going to need help from the international community to get back on track. Standing in solidarity with the many Sri Lankans who feel their government is making a mistake, we urge the United Nations to establish a commission of inquiry.

Signed:

  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa
  • Yasmin Sooka, executive director, Foundation for Human Rights, South Africa
  • Right Reverend Rayappu Joseph, bishop of Mannar and president of Tamil Civil Society in Sri Lanka
  • Honourable Rajavarothayam Sampanthan -  leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and member of Parliament of Sri Lanka
  • Honourable CV Wigneswaran - chief minister of Northern Provincial Council (NPC) and former Supreme Court Judge (Sri Lanka)
  • Danny Sriskandarajah, secretary general, CIVICUS, the world Alliance for Civilian Participation, South Africa
  • Dr Irene Fernandez, Right Livelihood Award, Malaysia
  • Bashana Abeywardane, exiled Sinhalese journalist, co-ordinator Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka
  • Maggie Ndagire, programme director, on behalf of Women and Children's Empowerment Network in Africa (WACENA), Uganda
  • Flavia Piovesan, professor of human rights and constitutional law, Catholic University of Sao Paulo, Brazil

... and 28 others representing human rights activists and organisations in South Africa, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Pakistan, Uganda, India, Cambodia, Malaysia, Brazil, Japan, Bosnia, Mongolia, Cote d'Ivoire, Nepal and Thailand.

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