Domestic inquiries into extrajudicial killings insufficient, UN expert stresses

3 June 2010
Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

An independent United Nations human rights expert today stressed the need for international inquiries into serious allegations of extrajudicial executions in cases where national probes have been insufficient, citing examples relating to the Gaza Strip and Sri Lanka.

In many instances, domestic commissions of inquiry had only resulted in “comprehensive impunity,” Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said as he presented his annual report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (HRC).

“Overall, the track record of such inquiries is remarkably poor,” he added.

In such cases, the international community will often need to insist that an international inquiry takes place where particularly serious allegations are made and where domestic practice has been “unconvincing.”

To assert in such circumstances that matters should be left entirely to a domestic inquiry will generally be tantamount to an “abdication” on the part of the international community, said Mr. Alston, who cited the recent Israeli attack on the humanitarian flotilla headed for Gaza as one example of such a situation.

Strongly condemning Israel’s actions, the Human Rights Council yesterday voted to send an independent, international probe into violations of international law resulting from Monday’s incident, which led to loss of life and injuries as well as the detention of activists and goods that were aboard the ships.

“I believe that there is a compelling need for an objective and impartial international investigation to ascertain the facts and make recommendations,” said the Special Rapporteur.

Mr. Alston also referred to the allegations that as many as 30,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka last year in the closing months of the conflict between Government forces and Tamil rebels and that grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law were committed.

“In this case also there is a need for an independent international inquiry,” he said. “While the Council rejected this proposal a year ago, there is now a great deal of new evidence which would warrant effective action.”

Mr. Alston also touched on the issues of targeted killings, noting that the practice poses a rapidly growing challenge to the international rule of law; police accountability; and election violence.

In addition, he presented his reports on the situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Colombia, Brazil and the Central African Republic (CAR).

Like all Special Rapporteurs, Mr. Alston reports to the 47-member Council in an independent and unpaid capacity.


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