UN council backs call for foreign role in Sri Lanka war crimes probe
The UN rights council adopted a resolution on Thursday calling for international judges and lawyers to be part of a war crimes probe in Sri Lanka.
The structure of Sri Lanka's prospective war crimes tribunal has become a sensitive political subject, particularly after UN's rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein last month called for the creation of a "hybrid court", blending Sri Lankan and international judicial systems.
The hybrid court notion was fiercely rejected by Colombo.
The resolution passed on Thursday appeared to mark a compromise, but with the specific composition of the court nowhere near decided, many questions remain unanswered.
The final resolution, which was co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, "affirms... the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel's office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorised prosecutors and investigators."
Colombo had successfully lobbied for a watering-down of language in a previous draft which came closer to demanding foreign involvement in the court, which is expected to probe the decades-long conflict with Tamil separatists that ended in May 2009.
Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last week rejected any international involvement in the tribunal, but Thursday's resolution suggested a softening of that stance.
Silvia Cartright, a prominent international judge who was part of the UN inquiry-panel into alleged war-era abuses in Sri Lanka, said she expects foreigners will be a part of the tribunal.
"The exact model has not been established... What I anticipate is a court that sits in Sri Lanka, that has both Sri Lankan and international defence lawyers and judges," as well foreign experts for witness protection.
She told journalists she expected the court to be created through Sri Lanka's legislative process, giving lawmakers in Colombo some supervision over its structure.
"The most important thing is to establish a court that is independent," she said.
Many victims, especially those from the Tamil minority, have said that Colombo is incapable of independently investigating potential abuses by the army and government.
UN experts have also made clear that Sri Lanka's justice system lacks the capacity to investigate and prosecute large scale international crimes, noting that few jurists in the world have experience with such trials.
"Integration of international actors is vital if the process is going to be credible in Sri Lanka," Cartright said.
© 2015 AFP