Sri Lanka Campaign Suggests to UN member states: A 'IIIM-style' International Mechanism to Collect, Consolidate and Preserve Sri Lanka's Atrocity Crimes Evidence

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23 March 2019 - Sri Lanka Campaign, a global non-partisan movement, in Twitter posts yesterday suggested to UN member states "A IIIM-style International Mechanism to Collect, Consolidate and Preserve Sri Lanka's Atrocity Crimes Evidence". UN member states should be brainstorming and putting on table in order to ratchet up pressure, it said. It quoted an interesting short paper by 'European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights' (ECCHR) considering ways in which International community might support accountability for atrocity crimes in Sri Lanka in the context of minimal domestic political will. With national criminal proceedings in Syria being unlikely in the near future, and after Russia and China had repeatedly blocked a Security Council referral to the ICC, the UN General Assembly established the IIIM for Syria.

The Berlin based ECCHR on 25 February 2019 had released the document of policy brief titled "Accountability for International Crimes in Sri Lanka - A View on UN Approaches in other Situations".

Taking up the OHCHR's conclusions, this policy brief assesses avenues previously pursued by the UN in other situations, which could promote accountability as one important pillar of a transitional justice process in Sri Lanka. The focus is on a set of different functions various mechanisms have had to support their fight for accountability.

The document states:  

On the international level, in cases where domestic solutions or proceedings before international courts or tribunals had not been an option, a number of creative extraordinary accountability mechanisms have been established within the UN system in recent years. All these mechanisms have or had important functions at their disposal, which contribute(d) to more effective criminal investigations and prosecutions.

By drawing on lessons learned from those mechanisms, the brief examines whether an extraordinary accountability mechanism could be an additional avenue to end impunity in Sri Lanka.

"With the passing of time, evidence vanishes and with it the chances of presenting the evidence to a court become more and more limited. To ensure that strong evidence is still available once independent proceedings are ready to deal with the international crimes committed, it is important to start collecting, consolidating and preserving evidence of violence as early as possible after the commission of a crime. This ensures that a sound basis of evidence gathered according to international rule of law standards exists for any domestic or international prosecutions that might take place. It also facilitates the conduct of criminal proceedings in third states.

The International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes under International Law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 (IIIM for Syria) was established to pursue this function with relation to the Syrian conflict. This was one of the two major tasks that were assigned to the Mechanism without the consent of the Syrian government.

In fulfilling its mandate, the IIIM for Syria collects evidence and information from third sources, such as States, international or regional organizations, entities of the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations, foundations and individuals. It further directly collects evidence in the form of interviews, witness testimony, documentation, and forensic material. It closely engages and coordinates its work with victim communities and civil society organizations and is responsible for taking appropriate measures to respect and ensure respect for the confidentiality, privacy, interests and personal circumstances of victims.

As long as impunity for international crimes is prevailing in Sri Lanka and neither the domestic system is able and willing to deal with those crimes appropriately nor a hybrid court as envisaged in Resolution 30/1 is set up, alternatives must be considered.

As could be seen in Latin America, a mechanism established with the consent of the government could facilitate prosecutions in Sri Lanka itself. By cooperating with the domestic prosecution authorities, it would potentially enhance the overall institutional capacities of prosecuting grave crimes. But while a governmental consent is preferable, it is not a necessary precondition: With national criminal proceedings in Syria being unlikely in the near future, and after Russia and China had repeatedly blocked a Security Council referral to the ICC, the UN General Assembly established the IIIM for Syria. 

Full document: 

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights' (ECCHR) policy brief:

"Accountability for International Crimes in Sri Lanka - A View on UN Approaches in other Situations" https://www.ecchr.eu/fileadmin/Gutachten/Paper_SriLanka_Accountability_f...

Sri Lanka Campaign Twitter Posts:

Particularly noteworthy for discussion of a 'IIIM-style' mech to collect, consolidate + preserve atrocity crimes evidence. Exactly kind of thing - along with Universal Jurisdiction - UN member states should be brainstorming and putting on table in order to ratchet up pressure. pic.twitter.com/pD51GgaWDS

— Sri Lanka Campaign (@SLcampaign) 22 mars 2019

Just catching up on this interesting short paper by @ECCHRBerlin considering ways in which int'l community might support accountability for atrocity crimes in Sri Lanka in the context of minimal domestic political will. https://t.co/oRQEDDjDMQ

— Sri Lanka Campaign (@SLcampaign) 22 mars 2019