Burundi and Sri Lanka, two test cases for the prevention of recurring mass violations – UN expert

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on transitional justice, Pablo de Greiff, today said that a ‘tradition of impunity’ seriously undermines accountability and reconciliation efforts in any country. He stressed that “prevention of recurring mass violations is not only a matter of making changes in texts; prevention calls for changes in practice and attitude in a society.”

“This can only be achieved through carefully designed and combined interventions at the level of State institutions, of civil society and in the sphere of culture and individual dispositions,” the independent expert said. “In addition to reforming institutions, more concerted work needs to be undertaken in relation to the preventive function of civil society and the potential of educational reform, arts, culture, and trauma counselling.”


“Since the end of April, Burundi has not only appallingly turned away from the path it had followed since the 2000 Arusha Agreement. What is more is that the ‘tradition of impunity’ of the past decades has clearly enabled the recent repression and violence,” Mr. de Greiff noted.

“I am raising alarm that the international community, regional and international organizations included, cannot afford to simply stand by and wait for new mass atrocities to recur. This would risk a major conflict in the Great Lakes region, the proportions of which no one can predict,” he warned.

“The highly volatile situation in Burundi requires a resolute and immediate response by the international community and the Human Rights Council in particular. Such a response needs to ensure an impartial assessment of human rights violations on the ground, notwithstanding the identity or affiliation of the victim or the perpetrator. Such a response would break the ‘tradition of impunity,’ which lies at the heart of most of the country’s difficulties,” the independent expert underlined.

In the face of the stalemate on Burundi in the Security Council, the Human Rights Council as the main UN human rights entity has to give a concrete and clear sign so as to prevent the recurrence of the worst imaginable violations. Only by a determined action, can this Council live up to the long-standing international promise – a promise inscribed in one of the few memorials in Burundi ‘Plus jamais ça’, the Special Rapporteur urged.

“People in Burundi and the Great Lakes region have endured untold suffering and the worst imaginable violations. They must be spared another cycle of violence, with the misery and destruction that violence and repression always leave in their wake,” he said.

Sri Lanka

“If handled well, the case of Sri Lanka has the potential to constitute an example for both the region and the world of how a sustainable peace ought to be achieved,” the human rights expert reiterated.

“To fully realize this potential, however, Sri Lanka needs to work on parallel tracks. On the one hand, a deliberate process towards a comprehensive transitional justice strategy needs to be undertaken, which addresses the manifold challenges the country is facing such as the in-depth reform of the justice system and the security sector (military, police, intelligences services included), the establishment of independent truth-seeking mechanisms, the design of a comprehensive reparation scheme to name a few,” Mr. de Greiff added.

“Such a process needs to be guided by carefully designed and conducted consultations that will involve all sectors of Sri Lankan society, and foremost victims of past gross violations. A firm commitment by the authorities is indispensable to take such long-term process forward,” the Special Rapporteur underscored.

“Simultaneously, immediate action must include clarifying the fate of the disappeared, addressing land issues, making sure that long-standing practices of arbitrary detentions; of surveillance and harassment–particularly of women in the Eastern and Northern provinces, many of them already victims of the conflict—have really come to an end, and last but not least, providing psycho-social support to victims,” he said.

“Progress on each of these domains needs to be accompanied by concrete steps to ensure criminal accountability for serious violations. At this critical juncture, the country cannot afford to simply reproduce an approach characterized by the proliferation of deliberately half-hearted initiatives that lack basic trust by the population and that have failed to remedy fundamental institutional deficiencies.”

“The debate about whether accountability procedures should be national or international is a mere proxy for two fundamental questions: first, how to guarantee that whatever institutions are set up can be reliably trusted by citizens to do their job independently; and second, where will the specialized capacities to carry out complex investigations into mass atrocities come from,” the Special Rapporteur concluded.

(*) The reports:

Burundi visit report (A/HRC/30/42/Add.1): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session30/Documents/A_HRC_30_42_Add_1_ENG_.docx

Sri Lanka observations: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15820&LangID=E

Thematic report on prevention (A/HRC/30/42): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session30/Documents/A.HRC.30.42.docx

Source: United Nations – Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

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