Performance review and expectations for the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) upcoming session have been largely overshadowed by the coalition government’s poor results at the February 10th Local Government elections. Interestingly however, despite the political turmoil that followed the election results at the national level, it appeared that the government did not entirely lose sight of the looming UNHRC deadline. In a familiar pattern, similar to what was observed ahead of previous UNHRC sessions, the end of February was characterized by a spur of activities around the Transitional Justice agenda.

Of particular significance was the much awaited appointment of seven commissioners to the Office on Missing Persons (OMP). Although the appointment process’ lack of transparency was and remains a cause for concerns, the finalization and announcement of the nominations is a step in the right direction. Progress on important legislative reforms also appears to have been planned ahead of the session. Thus, the final draft of the proposed Counterterrorism Act – which seeks to repeal and replace the PTA – is reported to have been presented to Cabinet on February 14th. Finally, the Prime Minister – at an election rally in Vavuniya – promised to ‘implement’ the Enforced Disappearance Bill. Available public information indicates that the Bill which was deferred in Parliament twice last year may be debated in Parliament on 07 March 2018.

These developments suggest that the UNHRC process remains crucial in Sri Lanka. Despite the government’s lack of genuine interest to ostensibly own the UNHRC 30/1 agenda and carry it forward in a planned, systematic and coherent manner, piecemeal progress nonetheless continues to take place ahead of the sessions, irrespective of political developments taking place domestically. This is an important reminder that the monitoring process ought to continue and that significantly more pressure should be placed on the coalition government to show progress in the implementation of the UNHRC resolution 30/1 in the coming year.







Vetting Transitional Justice Partners: Need of the Hour?

The implementation of the Peace-building Priority Plan ¬involves a wide range of stakeholders including UN resident agencies, development partners, INGOs and domestic civil society groups. These entities are expected to both oversee and implement the Transitional Justice process in Sri Lanka along with the government. Various stakeholders have repeatedly emphasized the importance of implementing the Transitional Justice agenda in a way that would foster trust in the government and in the various Transitional Justice mechanisms once established. However, the conversation has failed to explore the need to build trust in the wider range of partners—including development partners—involved in the Transitional Justice process. In particular, there seems to exist no minimum standards for human rights compliance as a prerequisite for partaking in the implementation of the Peace-building Fund. This is particularly problematic because development actors worldwide as well as in Sri Lanka have often failed to ensure that human rights compliance is at the core of their intervention.

The recent conference on reparations hosted by a range of actors including the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has revived the debate (or rather highlighted the lack thereof) about the human rights record of various organizations invited under the Peace-building Fund to play a central role in the Transitional Justice project. Under the Peace-building Fund, IOM will inter alia provide assistance in setting up the Reparations Office, it will assist in linking victim groups and affected communities with that mechanism and provide expertise to the government on developing a land/property restitution or compensation model in order to provide durable solutions to displaced populations. The central role that the IOM purports to play in devising and implementing reparation policies is particularly problematic given its past activities in Sri Lanka. In fact, in the months that followed the cessation of hostilities in Sri Lanka, civil society actors raised concerns about the Organization’s assistance to the implementation of government’s policies that were deemed illegal and potentially amounting to international crimes. In particular, despite concerns that were raised about the rehabilitation process to be carried out by the government, IOM actively facilitated the process by building camps and profiling surrendees. The IOM controversial role at the time was highlighted in the UN Internal Review Report (Report of the SG Internal Review Panel, paras. 56, 168, 170).

Against this backdrop, it is all the more essential to vet development partners benefiting from the Peace-building Fund to assist in the carrying out of the Transitional Justice agenda. This is not only essential to secure the trust of affected communities in the process, it would also serve as safeguard against attempts to erode the human rights norms that form the very foundation of the Transitional Justice project. 

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