JUNE 2017

 

TJ INSIGHT

A flurry of activities on the legislative and judicial front this month has created both hope and doubt as to the government’s sincerity in fulfilling its commitments under resolutions 30/1 (2015) and 34/1 (2017). On the 21st of June, the Parliament unanimously passed the Office of Missing Persons (Establishment, Administration and Discharge of Functions) Amendment Bill. The amendment removes section 11(a) of the principal enactment that allowed the OMP to forge agreements with external entities in order to achieve its mandate. On the one hand, the passing of this amendment lends hope that steps would now be taken to operationalize the OMP and appoint Commissioners. However, the amendment remains problematic since external expertise would be mandatory for the Office to carry out effective tracing investigations.
Meanwhile at a policy level, the government seems to be distancing itself from its undertakings to the UN Human Rights Council in 2015. On the 22nd of June, a Committee headed by the Prime Minister was appointed to oversee the implementation of Sri Lanka’s undertakings in terms of resolution 30/1. Notably, the committee does not include former foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera, but includes other Ministers who are not overly enthusiastic about the implementation of Sri Lanka’s UNHRC commitments. Among these is, the Minister of Justice and Buddha Sasana, Wijedasa Rajapaksa who on the 29th of June stated that the draconian PTA would not be repealed and replaced, but would rather be amended. This is in direct breach of Sri Lanka’s undertakings under resolution 30/1.
The government’s activities in June 2017, while ambiguous in their intent, lend the general impression that political will within the coalition to implement resolution 30/1 is fast diminishing or has already dissipated. Civil society therefore needs to think through and strategise its approaches to meet this emerging reality.

WHAT'S NEW

Articles

• ‘Crimes Against Humanity Has Happened in South And North; Now Implement UNHRC Resolution’ by R. Sampanthan, Sri Lanka Brief on 6/7/2017

• ‘Reconciliation in Sri Lanka Requires Actions not only Processes’ by Dr. Jehan Perera on 6/12/2017

• ‘Sri Lankan Rear Admiral, Theresa May & Misunderstanding Human Rights Law’ by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on 6/28/2017

• ‘Making Laws & Veiling Reality: Process of Transitional Justice In Sri Lanka’ by Anushka Kahandagama, Colombo Telegraph on 6/27/2017

• ‘UNHRC Resolution & The Debate Between So-Called Joint Opposition & Government’ by M. A. Sumanthiran on 6/7/2017

• ‘Finding the Missing Links Between the Missing Persons and the Culprits’ by M. S. M. Ayub, Daily Mirror on 6/30/2017

• ‘நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்’ by Esther Hoole on 4/15/2017

• ‘ජාතිවාදයට විරුද්ධ විය යුතු මොහොත’ by Raavaya on 6/11/2017

PUBLICATIONS

• ‘Mending Walls: Avenues to Restore Trust in Victim and Witness Protection | Part 1’ by Medhaka Fernando on 6/15/2017

• ‘Mending Walls: Avenues to Restore Trust in Victim and Witness Protection | Part 2’ by Medhaka Fernando and Dr. Isabelle Lassee on 6/16/ 2017

WEBSITES

• ‘Historical Dialogue’ – Historical Dialogue is a platform that explores the various narratives related to the country’s history of violence.

• ‘Corridors of Power’ – Corridors of Power explores Sri Lanka’s Constitutional evolution through architectural drawings.

FINDINGS OF—AND TAKEAWAYS FROM—THE REPORT OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE INDEPENDENCE OF JUDGES AND LAWYERS

On the 12th of June, a report compiled by the former Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Monica Pinto, was tabled before the UN Human Rights Council by the new Special Rapporteur on the subject Diego García-Sayán. The report was based on former Special Rapporteur Monica Pinto’s mission to Sri Lanka from the 29th of April to the 7th of May 2016.
The report commends the democratic gains achieved in the country since the change of government in 2015, including the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that has reduced executive fiat over the appointment of superior court judges, the Attorney-General and Inspector General of Police. In particular, the report notes that the change of government has allowed judges to affirm their independence and created a space for human rights lawyers to work in a secure environment. However, the report also notes that institutional safeguards remain insufficient to effectively ensure the independence, impartiality and competence of the judges, prosecutors and investigative personnel. The report also emphasizes that entrenched language barriers and inordinate delays within the justice system have systematically deprived many victims of their right of access to justice. The report ends with forty-nine recommendations geared towards systematically reforming the country’s justice system and laying the groundwork for a credible transitional justice process.
The tabling of this report and its findings comes at a juncture where resistance towards ‘external international involvement’ in the proposed transitional justice institutions is building up in the country. The Special Rapporteur’s report is therefore a powerful counter-narrative that reminds us of the realities and inadequacies of the national justice system. It emphasizes that the appointment of judges to superior courts is still tied up to political fluctuations due to the composition of the Constitutional Council. It reminds us that the Attorney-General’s Department and the police are still reluctant to investigate and prosecute military and public officials implicated in human rights violations. Most importantly, it highlights a general lack of faith within the Tamil and Sinhalese public towards the country’s justice system. The report therefore presents an opportunity for politicians, lawmakers and communities to introspect on the capacity of the domestic justice system to effectively address Sri Lanka’s culture of impunity including for alleged international crimes. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of this report’s publication, the Justice Minister has been swift to condemn its findings and dismiss it as a biased report harmful to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. The same Minister recently threatened to disbar a human rights lawyer after the latter revealed statistics relating to violence against Christians in Sri Lanka. 

In This Issue