February 2017


On 28th February Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. In his speech, Mr. Samaraweera highlighted some of the steps that have been taken to implement UNHRC resolution 30/1. While Mr. Samaraweera does not explain the delay in assigning the OMP to a ministry six months after the legislation was passed in Parliament, he mentions that over a billion rupees was allocated for the Office in this year’s budget. Disappointingly however, Mr. Samaweera fails to commit to further steps regarding the establishment of Transitional Justice mechanisms, besides indicating that draft legislation on the proposed truth commission will be presented to cabinet in the next two months. The topic of accountability for international crimes is only mentioned in passing and in elusive terms through reaffirming the government’s resolve to “bring justice to the victims of human rights violations”.

In its progress report dated 10th February, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, while acknowledging positive advances on human rights and constitutional reform, underlines the slow progress on Transitional Justice and notes that the “measures taken during the period under review were inadequate to ensure real progress”. It also emphasizes that the government is yet to present a “comprehensive transitional justice strategy to overcome the legacy of mistrust and skepticism”. Finally and importantly, the Report points out that complementary and supporting steps for the establishment of a Special Court ought to have already taken place. These include incorporating international crimes into domestic law and strengthening prosecutorial capacities.



‘Sri Lanka: Slow progress on crucial justice and reconciliation – The High Commissioner’s Report’ by Sri Lanka Brief on 3/3/2017

‘Key elements for a follow-up resolution on Sri Lanka’ by Human Rights Watch on 2/24/2017

‘Sri Lanka Transitional Justice at cross roads’ by Sri Lanka Brief on 2/23/2017

‘The Problem with Justice as Reconciliation’ by Niran Anketell on 2/22/2017

‘Road to OMP Timeline’ by Groundviews on 2/28/2017

‘Trying to Understand Keppapilavu: Resistance, Solidarities & Politics’ by Mahendran Thiruvarangan on 2/28/2017

‘நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?’ by Niran Anketell on 1/18/2017

‘உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்படுத்துவது நீதியை மறுப்பதற்காகவா?’ by Dr. Isabelle Lassee on 2/18/2017

‘හොරාගේ අම්මගෙන් පේන ඇහුවම හිත් සැනසෙයිද?’ by Saranee Gunathileke on 2/13/2017


‘Contextualizing Sri Lanka’s Victim and Witness Protection for Transitional Justice’ by Medhaka Fernando and Indumini Randeny on 3/7/2017

‘සංක්රාන්ති යුක්තිය තුල වින්දිතයන් සහ සාක්ෂිකරුවන් ආරක්ෂා කිරීම’ by Saranee Gunathileke and Indumini Randeny on 3/8/2017 


With the commemoration of international women’s day this week, we must remember that the transitional justice agenda, which was in many countries advanced by courageous and resilient women activists, must be situated within a broader human rights framework. The CEDAW report, also published this week, reminds us of the need for a rights-based approach to transitional justice. By including recommendations pertaining to transitional justice as part of its examination of Sri Lanka’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the report is a reminder that the ultimate goal of transitional justice must be to reform and dismantle structures of oppression that gave rise or sustained violence and ultimately restore the rule of law and human rights for all.

The CEDAW report echoes many of the demands conveyed for years by women activists. These include the reform of discriminating personal laws, increased gender representativeness in public institutions, as well as prevention and repression of gender based and domestic violence, to list of few. The report also dedicates two sets of recommendations to issues pertaining to the broader transitional justice agenda. Besides emphasizing the importance of over 50% women’s representation in transitional justice mechanisms, the Committee notably recommends international participation of judges, prosecutors, investigators and lawyers in the accountability mechanism. It also emphasizes the need to amend the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses Act to bring it in line with international standards. Furthermore, the Committee examines the issue of conflict related sexual and gender-based violence against women. In particular, in its recommendations, the report highlights the need to implement a zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence perpetrated by the army and the police, and to reinforce national investigative and prosecutorial capacities and witness and victims’ protection and support.

More broadly, the Committee notes the inadequacy of law enforcement’s response to sexual and gender-based violence including domestic violence. In this respect, it recommends the establishment of a special unit in the Attorney General’s Department to expedite the handling of cases of sexual violence. In fact, the creation of such a special unit could lead to increased gender sensitiveness in investigations and prosecutions of sexual crimes. Interestingly, during the consultations carried out by Women Action Network in preparation of SACLS’ report “A Gendered Approach to Transitional Justice”, women made a similar recommendation with respect to the proposed Special Court. However, international experience shows that the creation of a special unit dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of sexual and gender-based crimes within a Special Court focusing on international crimes could be counterproductive. This is because sexual and gender-based violence against women as underlying acts of war crimes and crimes against humanity interrelate with other international crimes. Therefore, a streamlined approach to investigations and prosecutions better serves the interest of women victims. In light of this, gender balance in the staffing of the Special Court is all the more important. Ultimately, a special mechanism—whether a special unit for sexual crimes within the AG’s Department or a Special Court dedicated to international crimes including sexual and gender-based crimes—will be essential in setting standards for the handling of sexual and gender-based violence cases.


In This Issue