Every day we will be blogging one of our one-page mini essays that make up our media pack that accompanies the release of the UN report. You can download the entire pack here.

Bombed out cars

The biggest question of all – how did we allow this to happen?

Why was an investigation not launched immediately after the war?

In early 2009, there was a fair deal of concern among the international community and the United Nations as to how the war was being fought and the number of civilian deaths. However, a lack of credible information coming from the front lines (in part due to the Government’s media blackout and restrictions on NGOs) and a sense of ambivalence from key international leaders, many of whom were glad to see the back of the LTTE, ensured that a strong and co-ordinated international response did not materialise. Furthermore, the conflict was overshadowed by the far smaller but higher profile conflict that was occurring in Gaza at the same time, “Operation Cast Lead”. All this led to a muted response from the international community.

What is this report called?

The ‘OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka’ or ‘OISL’ for short (pronounced oy-sul by some and O-I-S-L by others). OHCHR stands for Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Haven’t war crimes and crimes against humanity already been established?

War crimes and crimes against humanity have been widely established by NGOs, by independent legal opinions, and by Peoples’ Tribunals. The UN itself has determined that there is “credible evidence” that war crimes and crimes against humanity took place, and the commission of such crimes was implied by the UN’s internal review in 2012. However, this will be the first time that the UN has the mandate to establish these as fact.

What is the report’s mandate?

OISL was mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 25/1 in March 2014. The Human Rights Council, in this resolution on “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”, requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights “to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka”. The period under investigation is 21 February 2002 until 15 November 2011 – as this was the period covered by the Sri Lankan government’s own flawed domestic investigation (the LLRC). Its mandate requires OISL to investigate violations by applying Sri Lanka’s obligations under international human rights law, customary international law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law.

What methods did it use?

With the support of experts such as the UN special rapporteurs and advice from three international experts (Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland; Silvia Cartwright, former High Court judge of New Zealand; and Asma Jahangir, former President of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan), OISL has conducted a desk review, documented testimonies of witnesses and alleged perpetrators, and analysed information from other relevant sources, such as satellite images. The previous government of Sri Lanka refused to cooperate with the OISL investigation and it is unclear whether the current Government offered any assistance. The findings will be based on a “reasonable grounds to believe” standard of proof.