JULY 2017

 

TJ INSIGHT

The month of July brought with it a number of worrying developments that put Sri Lanka’s post-war transitional justice process on a backward footing. In December 2015, the then newly elected coalition government – in its reformist fervour – had ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All persons from Enforced Disappearances and promised to give effect to it domestically by passing appropriate legislation. Accordingly, the Enforced Disappearances Bill – as it was popularly known – was slated to be tabled in Parliament on the 5th of July. Nevertheless a resolution passed by the Heads of the three main Buddhist Nikayas of the country – on the preceding day – strongly urged the government to delay presenting this Bill to the Parliament. Following this, the government decided to indefinitely postpone presenting the enforced disappearances bill to Parliament. Ironically, within a week, a senior officer of the Sri Lanka Navy was arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department. This was for allegedly aiding and abetting his subordinate officers abduct eleven youth – during the height of the armed conflict – for purposes of obtaining ransom money. The fate or whereabouts of the eleven youth remain unknown, making this potentially one of the most high profile cases of enforced disappearances in the country.
This month also saw the UN Special Rapporteur on Counterterrorism and Human Rights releasing a statement on the 14th of July following his five-day inspection tour of the country. His observation that Sri Lanka’s TJ process ‘has ground to a virtual halt’ reinforces SACLS’ fear that the government’s current policy of sequencing ‘truth first justice later’ would ultimately result in continued impunity for perpetrators within the country. Subsequently, the President of Sri Lanka – on the 20th of July – ambiguously tweeted that he had ‘signed the Office on Missing Persons Gazette’. However, in terms of this Gazette, the President has only assigned the OMP to the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation. For the OMP Act to truly come into operation, the Minister in charge of the OMP must specify a ‘date of operation’ by way of an order published in another Gazette. Legal complexities aside, the continued confusion surrounding the setting up of the OMP, will further demoralize families of disappeared persons searching for answers about their loved ones.

WHAT'S NEW

ARTICLES

‘Full Statement by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, at the conclusion of his official visit’ by United Nations on 7/14/2017

‘The Gloves Are Off: Reactions to Ben Emmerson’s Statement on Torture, Counterterrorism’ by Raisa Wickremetunge, Groundviews on 7/20/2017

‘Sri Lanka’s difficulty with truth’ by Thejshree Thapa, Daily FT on 7/13/2017

‘Silenced Stones mark Hard Path to Sri Lankan Reconciliation’ by Duncan Mccargo, Asia Times on 7/26/2017

‘Importance of Adhering to the Constitutional and Legal Framework in the Establishment and Operationalizing of the Office on Missing Persons’ by CPA on 7/24/2017

‘Impunity and Justice: Why the UN Human Rights Council Must Stay Engaged in Sri Lanka’ by Alan Keenan, International Crisis Group on 6/17/2017

‘බලහත්කාරයෙන් අතුරුදහන් තහනම් කිරීමේ පනතේ ඇත්ත හා නැත්ත’ by Jagath Liyanaarachchi, Vikalpa on 7/10/2017

‘සත්‍ය භාර ගැනීමට ශ්‍රී ලංකාව පස්ස ගැසීම' by Vikalpa on 7/18/2017

‘වින්දිතයන් හා සාක්ෂිකරුවන් ආරක්ෂාකිරීම පිළිබඳ පනත 'නරියන්ට කුකුලන් භාර දීමක්ද?’ by Saranee Gunathilake, Samabima in June 2017

PUBLICATIONS

‘Prosecuting War-Related Rape and Sexual Violence Against Women in Sri Lanka: Lessons from Feminist Perspectives’ by Law and Society Trust in July 2017

BLOG

‘Operationalizing the OMP Act’ – South Asian Centre for Legal Studies.

‘Old wine in new bottles: Sri Lanka’s latest counter-terrorism proposals’ – Sri Lanka Campaign

SRI LANKA’S CONFLICT AFFECTED WOMEN: A CATALYST FOR JUSTICE AND ACCOUNTABILITY?

 On the 28th of July, the International Crisis Group (ICG) published a report which explores how Tamil speaking women in the North and East of Sri Lanka deal with the legacy of the country’s armed conflict almost a decade after the cessation of hostilities.

The report observes how the change of government in January 2015 allowed conflict affected Tamil speaking women to claim ‘informal spaces’ to participate in the country’s transitional justice process. These women have utilized this space to petition key governmental personalities on matters relating to truth and justice. For example in early June this year, the families of missing persons in Jaffna –spearheaded by conflict affected women in the North– managed to meet the President of Sri Lanka and senior ministers and obtained an important undertaking from them. Conversely, the report also observes that the government’s decreasing enthusiasm for the transitional project has shrunk the space for victims’ engagement with formal transitional justice processes. The closing up of formal spaces is problematic for a number of reasons. As highlighted in one of SACLS’ previous publications, adopting a gendered approach to transitional justice – by designing and implementing gender sensitive transitional justice mechanisms – requires continuous input from women and information exchange with policy makers. In addition, as the ICG report notes, the rapid constriction of space for conflict affected women—and other victims irrespective of gender—to be involved in formal transitional justice policy making could be regarded as a continuous form of victimization.

Although the ICG report acknowledges that diminishing political will within the country has hindered conflict affected women’s search for justice, it also seems to endorse a problematic approach to the sequencing of the four transitional justice mechanisms. In fact, the report recommends prioritizing the setting up of the less controversial Office on Missing Persons and Office for Reparations as a means of neutralizing resistance towards transitional justice in Sri Lanka. In previous publication and communications SACLS has warned against the drawbacks of pursuing a sequencing strategy that would lead to indefinitely postponing the creation of a Special Court and/or a Special Prosecutor’s Office. The overt acceptance of this policy by those outside government has and will continue to contribute to the shrinking space for transitional justice, including but not limited to criminal accountability. In fact, as highlighted elsewhere, the ever decreasing pressure on the government to fully implement UNHRC resolution 30/1 has already eroded progress on other transitional justice fronts, as evidenced by the protracted delay in setting up the Office on Missing Persons.

 

 

In This Issue