Australia supports UN Human Rights Council’s call for Sri Lankan war crimes to be investigated

In late March 2013 the UN Human Rights Council passed a US-backed resolution calling on Sri Lanka to honour the commitments it has previously made to investigate widespread allegations of war crimes during the last months of the civil war in May 2009. The resolution also raised formal concerns about continuing enforced disappearances, human rights abuses and other threats to the rule of law in Sri Lanka including the recent impeachment of the Chief Justice. Although coming to the table late in the day, Australia co-sponsored the resolution. However, a media report suggests Australia may have played a role in the watering down of the international call to Sri Lanka to improve its human rights record. The resolution requires Sri Lanka to undertake its own, internal investigations into war crimes but does not require an independently coordinated international investigation.

While Canadian and US delegations released media statements on the resolution, it appears neither the Foreign Minister Bob Carr nor the Australian Delegation to the UN have released a statement about Australia’s co-sponsorship. A solitary tweet from the Foreign Minister about Australia’s intention to co-sponsor the resolution is seemingly the only public statement.

Nevertheless, Australia’s co-sponsorship is positive recognition of the need for accountability for human rights abuses and internal reconciliation, particularly given the close ties between Australia and Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, Canada has refused to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Sri Lanka later this year, which Geoffrey Robertson expects will be a ‘propoganda bonanza’ for the Sri Lankan government.

Madeleine Forster is a lawyer from DLA Piper on secondment with the HRLC