The South Asian Centre for Legal Studies was founded with the objective of advancing Transitional Justice and the global rule of law in Sri Lanka.

In the media

In the Media - April 2018

10 May 2018
In the Media - April 2018

Intially featured as part of the April 2018 TJ Bulletin, available here. ‘Right of reply: Why the GoSL Sponsored Resolution 30/1’ Daily Mirror on...

In the Media - March 2018

02 April 2018
In the Media - March 2018

Initially featured as part of the TJ Bulletin - March 2018, available here.   UPDATE: Flip-Flopping on Accountability – A Timeline’ Raisa Wi...

In the Media - February 2018

01 March 2018
In the Media - February 2018

Initially featured as part of the TJ Bulletin - February 2018, available here.   ‘Government Fast tracks OMP Operation Ahead of UNHRC Sessions’&n...

நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்

08 April 2017
நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்

2009 ஆம் ஆண்டு யுத்தம் முடிவடைந்ததையடுத்து, யுத்தகாலத்தில் இடம்பெற்ற விடயங்கள் சம்பந்தமாக வகைப்பொறுப்பு கூறுவதற்கும் அத்துடன் நல்லிணக்கத்தை தோற்றுவிப்...

FORGETTING THE PAST: A WARNING

23 March 2017
FORGETTING THE PAST: A WARNING

On March 24th, human rights activists and victims’ groups worldwide will commemorate International Day for the Dignity of Victims, in honour of victim...

AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION WITHIN WITNESS PROTE...

17 March 2017
AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION WITHIN WITNESS PROTECTION ACTIVITIES: PART III

Organisational structures for witness protection Structurally, witness protection programmes could exist in a number of different forms. Countries oft...

OPERATIONAL MODELS FOR VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTI...

16 March 2017
OPERATIONAL MODELS FOR VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION WITHIN TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE: PART II

The previous article in this serial titled Contextualising Victim and Witness Protection for Transitional Justice discussed three key considerations w...

CONTEXTUALIZING VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION FOR...

14 March 2017
CONTEXTUALIZING VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION FOR TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE - PART I

Introduction Since the end of the war in 2009, Sri Lanka has been pushed to address issues relating to wartime accountability and reconciliation withi...

The problem with ‘justice as reconciliation’

22 February 2017
The problem with ‘justice as reconciliation’

Unless we evolve substantive way to talk about justice for atrocity crimes, the emotive aspects of the debate will continue to take precedence with ve...

உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்ப...

18 February 2017
உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்படுத்துவது நீதியை மறுப்பதற்காகவா?

ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் மனித உரிமைகள் பேரவையின் அமர்விற்கு இன்னமும் ஒரு மாதகாலத்திற்கு சற்றே அதிகமான காலப்பகுதியே இருக்கின்றது. இந்த அமர்வில் ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் மன...

நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?

18 January 2017
நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?

இலங்கை, நல்லாட்சி ​அரசாங்கத்தின் இரண்டாவது வருடத்தை கடந்துள்ள இத்தருணத்தில் மனிதர்களுக்கெதிரான அட்டூழியங்கள் நிறைந்த குற்றச்செயல்கள் சார்ந்ததாக வகைபொற...

Incorporating International Crimes into Sri Lankan...

22 September 2016
Incorporating International Crimes into Sri Lankan Law: The Need for Legislative Reform

 In a paper published recently, Eleanor Vermunt and I argued that international crimes must be incorporated into Sri Lankan law with retroactive...

« »

In the media

In the Media - April 2018

10 May 2018
In the Media - April 2018

Intially featured as part of the April 2018 TJ Bulletin, available here. ‘Right of reply: Why the GoSL Sponsored Resolution 30/1’ Daily Mirror on...

In the Media - March 2018

02 April 2018
In the Media - March 2018

Initially featured as part of the TJ Bulletin - March 2018, available here.   UPDATE: Flip-Flopping on Accountability – A Timeline’ Raisa Wi...

In the Media - February 2018

01 March 2018
In the Media - February 2018

Initially featured as part of the TJ Bulletin - February 2018, available here.   ‘Government Fast tracks OMP Operation Ahead of UNHRC Sessions’&n...

நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்

08 April 2017
நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்

2009 ஆம் ஆண்டு யுத்தம் முடிவடைந்ததையடுத்து, யுத்தகாலத்தில் இடம்பெற்ற விடயங்கள் சம்பந்தமாக வகைப்பொறுப்பு கூறுவதற்கும் அத்துடன் நல்லிணக்கத்தை தோற்றுவிப்...

FORGETTING THE PAST: A WARNING

23 March 2017
FORGETTING THE PAST: A WARNING

On March 24th, human rights activists and victims’ groups worldwide will commemorate International Day for the Dignity of Victims, in honour of victim...

AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION WITHIN WITNESS PROTE...

17 March 2017
AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION WITHIN WITNESS PROTECTION ACTIVITIES: PART III

Organisational structures for witness protection Structurally, witness protection programmes could exist in a number of different forms. Countries oft...

OPERATIONAL MODELS FOR VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTI...

16 March 2017
OPERATIONAL MODELS FOR VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION WITHIN TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE: PART II

The previous article in this serial titled Contextualising Victim and Witness Protection for Transitional Justice discussed three key considerations w...

CONTEXTUALIZING VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION FOR...

14 March 2017
CONTEXTUALIZING VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION FOR TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE - PART I

Introduction Since the end of the war in 2009, Sri Lanka has been pushed to address issues relating to wartime accountability and reconciliation withi...

The problem with ‘justice as reconciliation’

22 February 2017
The problem with ‘justice as reconciliation’

Unless we evolve substantive way to talk about justice for atrocity crimes, the emotive aspects of the debate will continue to take precedence with ve...

உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்ப...

18 February 2017
உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்படுத்துவது நீதியை மறுப்பதற்காகவா?

ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் மனித உரிமைகள் பேரவையின் அமர்விற்கு இன்னமும் ஒரு மாதகாலத்திற்கு சற்றே அதிகமான காலப்பகுதியே இருக்கின்றது. இந்த அமர்வில் ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் மன...

நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?

18 January 2017
நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?

இலங்கை, நல்லாட்சி ​அரசாங்கத்தின் இரண்டாவது வருடத்தை கடந்துள்ள இத்தருணத்தில் மனிதர்களுக்கெதிரான அட்டூழியங்கள் நிறைந்த குற்றச்செயல்கள் சார்ந்ததாக வகைபொற...

Incorporating International Crimes into Sri Lankan...

22 September 2016
Incorporating International Crimes into Sri Lankan Law: The Need for Legislative Reform

 In a paper published recently, Eleanor Vermunt and I argued that international crimes must be incorporated into Sri Lankan law with retroactive...

« »

In the media

In the Media - April 2018

10 May 2018
In the Media - April 2018

Intially featured as part of the April 2018 TJ Bulletin, available here. ‘Right of reply: Why the GoSL Sponsored Resolution 30/1’ Daily Mirror on...

In the Media - March 2018

02 April 2018
In the Media - March 2018

Initially featured as part of the TJ Bulletin - March 2018, available here.   UPDATE: Flip-Flopping on Accountability – A Timeline’ Raisa Wi...

In the Media - February 2018

01 March 2018
In the Media - February 2018

Initially featured as part of the TJ Bulletin - February 2018, available here.   ‘Government Fast tracks OMP Operation Ahead of UNHRC Sessions’&n...

நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்

08 April 2017
நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்

2009 ஆம் ஆண்டு யுத்தம் முடிவடைந்ததையடுத்து, யுத்தகாலத்தில் இடம்பெற்ற விடயங்கள் சம்பந்தமாக வகைப்பொறுப்பு கூறுவதற்கும் அத்துடன் நல்லிணக்கத்தை தோற்றுவிப்...

FORGETTING THE PAST: A WARNING

23 March 2017
FORGETTING THE PAST: A WARNING

On March 24th, human rights activists and victims’ groups worldwide will commemorate International Day for the Dignity of Victims, in honour of victim...

AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION WITHIN WITNESS PROTE...

17 March 2017
AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION WITHIN WITNESS PROTECTION ACTIVITIES: PART III

Organisational structures for witness protection Structurally, witness protection programmes could exist in a number of different forms. Countries oft...

OPERATIONAL MODELS FOR VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTI...

16 March 2017
OPERATIONAL MODELS FOR VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION WITHIN TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE: PART II

The previous article in this serial titled Contextualising Victim and Witness Protection for Transitional Justice discussed three key considerations w...

CONTEXTUALIZING VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION FOR...

14 March 2017
CONTEXTUALIZING VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION FOR TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE - PART I

Introduction Since the end of the war in 2009, Sri Lanka has been pushed to address issues relating to wartime accountability and reconciliation withi...

The problem with ‘justice as reconciliation’

22 February 2017
The problem with ‘justice as reconciliation’

Unless we evolve substantive way to talk about justice for atrocity crimes, the emotive aspects of the debate will continue to take precedence with ve...

உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்ப...

18 February 2017
உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்படுத்துவது நீதியை மறுப்பதற்காகவா?

ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் மனித உரிமைகள் பேரவையின் அமர்விற்கு இன்னமும் ஒரு மாதகாலத்திற்கு சற்றே அதிகமான காலப்பகுதியே இருக்கின்றது. இந்த அமர்வில் ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் மன...

நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?

18 January 2017
நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?

இலங்கை, நல்லாட்சி ​அரசாங்கத்தின் இரண்டாவது வருடத்தை கடந்துள்ள இத்தருணத்தில் மனிதர்களுக்கெதிரான அட்டூழியங்கள் நிறைந்த குற்றச்செயல்கள் சார்ந்ததாக வகைபொற...

Incorporating International Crimes into Sri Lankan...

22 September 2016
Incorporating International Crimes into Sri Lankan Law: The Need for Legislative Reform

 In a paper published recently, Eleanor Vermunt and I argued that international crimes must be incorporated into Sri Lankan law with retroactive...

« »
In the Media

In 2015 the Sri Lankan government co-sponsored UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. By doing so, the government undertook to set up a judicial mechanism, amongst other things, to investigate allegations of human rights and international humanitarian law violations that were perpetrated by both sides to the civil war. This mechanism would include involvement of international experts.

The government’s commitment has been met with outright resistance by some groups in Sri Lanka, and the government itself has backtracked on its promise to have international participation in a judicial mechanism. President Sirisena and prominent members of the government have indicated that there will not be international participation in prosecutions as international actors should not interfere with Sri Lanka’s internal matters. However, some Sri Lankan legal commentators have argued that prosecutions are necessary if Sri Lanka is to effectively address the entrenched culture of impunity that fuelled insecurity, fear and ultimately the ethnic conflict.

This begs the question, whether trials − conducted nationally or internationally for international crimes committed during a civil war − help bring about sustainable peace in a post-war country?

In their recent in-depth study, Assistant Professors Geoff Dancy and Eric Wiebelhaus-Brahm sought to answer this very question by analysing whether there is a link between post war criminal prosecutions and conflict recurrence. Previously, the debate was considered unresolved because few researchers had examined this question empirically by observing experiences of post-conflict societies. And where empirical research existed, the researchers had not adequately taken into account the nuances in each post conflict setting. Dancy and Wiebelhaus-Brahm sought to address these gaps in existing literature by conducting their own empirical study.

The researchers examined a data set of 263 post conflict periods over a forty-year timeframe (1970- 2010). The researchers recorded all prosecutions that occurred in that period and then analysed whether a statistical relationship exists between prosecutions and duration of periods of peace after a war had ended. The researchers categorized trials into three groups: domestic prosecutions of state agents; domestic prosecutions of opposition groups such as rebel groups that fought the State during the civil war; and international prosecutions of both. International prosecutions constitute trials that are completely international in nature, such as prosecutions before the International Criminal Court, as well as hybrid courts that are operated by both international and domestic actors.

The study came to four main conclusions. First, amnesties (official pardons for people who have committed crimes) are associated with a decreased risk of conflict recurrence in the short term (first five years after a war has ended), but do not play any role in sustaining peace in the long run. Second, domestic prosecutions of state agents do not disrupt the peace in the short term, and significantly decrease the risk of conflict recurrence by 53% in the long run. The study also found that prosecuting high ranking state agents decreased the risk of conflict recurrence in the long run. Third, domestic prosecutions of rebel groups that fought the State during a civil war and were militarily defeated do not have a significant impact in increasing or decreasing the probability of peace in the long term. Finally, international trials did not increase the risk of conflict recurrence in the short or long term.

Notably, the research demonstrates that there is a correlation between domestic trials of state agents who allegedly committed grave violations during a civil war and decreased risk of conflict reoccurring in the long run. Stage agents include government officials and members of the military. Importantly, a higher number of prosecutions of high ranking state officials and a higher number of guilty verdicts also correlate to longer durations of peace after a war has ended. Also, international trials were found to be associated with a less likelihood of conflict recurrence.

In sum, the answer to the question, “do trials conducted nationally or internationally for international crimes committed during civil wars help bring about sustainable peace?” is yes. There is a positive correlation between trials and peace in the long run. This might be because governments increase the credibility of their commitment to peace by prosecuting those who have committed terrible abuses, even when it is politically difficult to do so. It may also be because trials set standards on what is considered acceptable behaviour during war, and provides a general deterrent to others to prevent future abuses. Perpetrators who understand that their actions could lead to serious repercussions including long jail times may think twice before violating human rights. Developing rules, norms and institutions for accountability could go towards transforming potentially violent actors into non-violent players.

Therefore, if the government is serious about accountability and ensuring sustainable peace in Sri Lanka, the evidence suggests that setting up a Special Court with international involvement to try crimes committed by both sides during the war is an important step. It is a step that could go towards addressing Sri Lanka’s violent past and securing a peaceful future.

Published in Blog

The Prime Minister’s Office released the draft Office for Reparations Bill this month pursuant to an information request filed by Mannar based human rights activist Shreen Saroor. The Cabinet memorandum pertaining to the Office for Reparations Bill characterizes the Office as an ‘independent institution’ set up to provide reparations for serious human rights and humanitarian law violations. The draft Bill states that the said violations should have occurred (a) in connection with the civil war in the North-East, (b) a civil disturbance/political unrest, (c) in the course of systemic gross violations of the rights of individuals, groups or communities of people in Sri Lanka or (d) due to an enforced disappearance (clause 19).


According to the draft, the Office for Reparations will play a central role in the formulation and implementation of reparation policies. First, it will have a role in the design of reparation policies and as such will formulate and forward reparation policies to the Cabinet of Ministers for approval (clause 7(1)(e)). Second, it will be tasked with implementing the reparations policies approved by the Cabinet of Ministers (clause 7(1)(f)). The draft specifies that with respect to the formulation of recommendations, the Office shall draw on available expertise (clause 7(2)(b)) as well as the views of victims (clause 7(2)(a)). A good starting point in this respect would be for the Office to take account of victims’ views on reparations as noted in the CTF report.


According to the draft, the Office is empowered to receive reparation claims (clause 7(1)(b)). As specified in the draft itself, this would require the Office to verify the authenticity of the reparations claims i.e. verify that the person has been the victim of a serious human rights or humanitarian law violation, and that the said violation falls within the mandate of the Office. It is noteworthy in this respect that although the Office of Reparations may gather information (clause 7(1)(p)) or request assistance (clause 7(1)(s)) from governmental authorities or any other source, unlike the Office on Missing Persons, it is not vested with extensive powers of investigation. It is therefore likely that the threshold for verification will be relatively low. While guidance in this respect should ideally be provided in the legislation, absent any criteria in the legislation, the method for verification (including the type of information or evidence required to prove the claim, the threshold of certainty required and any appeal mechanism available to victims whose claims have been rejected) must be specified in the rules and regulations issued by the Office (clause 7(1)(c)).


Additionally, while the draft specifies that a victim is “a person who has suffered from a serious violation of human rights or humanitarian law” (section 19), this definition does not provide sufficient guidance as to the type of suffering that will be considered when assessing whether a person is regarded as a victim under the Bill. In this respect, the comprehensive definition provided in the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law should be adopted in the legislation. It is important to note that under the Basic Principles and Guidelines, the term victim also includes persons who have suffered harm in intervening to assist victims in distress or to prevent victimization (para. 8). 

The draft also fails to define what constitutes a serious violation of human rights and humanitarian law. This is a problematic omission since the concept is central to the definition of victim adopted in the draft Bill. It is also important to recall that while reparations for less serious violations may fall outside the purview of the Office for Reparations, the State obligation to provide reparations for violations of human rights is not limited to gross or serious violations. (ICCPR, Article 2)


Finally, although the draft does not comprehensively specify the criteria on which recommendations for specific types of reparation should be made, it nonetheless provides some indication in this respect. Notably, it appears that being the victim of a serious violation of human rights or humanitarian law in the context specified by the draft Bill constitutes a necessary but not a sufficient condition to benefit from reparations (section 7(1)(b)). In fact the draft specifies that the Office should formulate recommendations with regard to the criteria for eligibility for victims to obtain reparations (section 7(1)(e)a). It is unclear whether these criteria would clarify the definition of a victim adopted in the draft Bill or would constitute additional criteria for eligibility. The draft Bill also provides indications regarding the factors to be taken into account when making recommendations for acceding to and prioritizing reparation claims and deciding on the collective or individual nature of reparations (section 7(2)).

Published in Blog