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In need of urgent action

The Human Rights Council meets in a special session on 26 May to address the human rights consequences of the conflict in Sri Lanka. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay reiterates her call for an international enquiry and urges the government to ensure that unimpeded assistance promptly reaches the survivors of the conflict.

The Human Rights Council meets in a special session on 26 May to address the human rights consequences of the conflict in Sri Lanka - UN Photo/Pierre Virot“The images of terrified and emaciated women, men and children fleeing the battle zone ought to be etched in our collective memory. They must spur us into action,” Pillay said in an opening address to the special session.

She said there were “strong reasons to believe” that both sides in the long conflict, the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), had “grossly disregarded the fundamental principle of the inviolability of civilians.”

“An independent and credible international investigation into recent events should be dispatched to ascertain the occurrence, nature and scale of violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as specific responsibilities.”

Pillay emphasized that victims and the survivors have a right to justice and remedies, and establishing the facts is crucial to set the record straight regarding the conduct of all parties in the conflict. 

Independent human rights monitors and the media should be given “unfettered access to verify reports of serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law which have consequently surfaced in the course of the fighting,” she said.

The Special Procedures mandate holders of the Human Rights Council also recommended the establishment of “an effective mechanism to impartially inquire into all violations committed” throughout the conflict.

“A true reconciliation process requires an assessment of what has happened and must ensure accountability and an end to impunity,” said Magdalena Sepúlveda, Independent expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty, who delivered a joint statement to the special session on behalf of all Special Procedures mandate holders of the Human Rights Council.

The High Commissioner also echoed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call for immediate and unimpeded access to the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. “Unrestricted humanitarian aid will make the difference between life, illness or even death to many, and yet access for the UN and NGOs to the IDP camps continues to be hampered,” she said.

The Secretary-General, who visited Sri Lanka from 22 to 23 May, also underscored that “full transparency and full respect for human rights are essential” to the process of national recovery and reconciliation.

At the opening of the special session, Human Rights Council President Martin Uhomoibhi spoke of the “untold hardships” suffered by millions throughout this conflict and expressed hope that the special session would contribute towards the cause of peace in Sri Lanka.

By convening the session, the Human Rights Council sent “a message of readiness and willingness to work with the Government and people of Sri Lanka towards reconstruction and development,” he said.

The special session took place following a request by Germany on behalf 17 members of the Human Rights Council, including Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Mauritius, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Uruguay.

This is the eleventh special session of the Human Rights Council. Its previous special sessions concerned Lebanon, Darfur, Myanmar, the global food crisis, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the global economic and financial crises.

26 May 2009