MARCH 2017

TJ INSIGHT

At the Human Rights Council session held in March, Sri Lanka co-sponsored another resolution calling for the full implementation of Resolution 30/1 and extending the monitoring mandate of the High Commissioner for human rights for a further two years. While the text of the Resolution was largely uncontroversial, its passage coincides with the government’s pursuit of a deliberate strategy to distance itself from the commitments it has voluntarily assumed, and now re-assumed. This strategy of staying the course in terms of commitments, and actively disavowing them in practice, severely undermines the credibility of the government. What began as concerns over the narrow issue of the participation of judges in a special court has now alarmingly expanded to explicit denunciations of the entire set of Transitional Justice commitments. This is no more evident than in the President’s refusal to assign the Office on Missing Persons to a Minister—a precondition for operationalizing the promised mechanism. With the government now accelerating its policy of backtracking, it is essential that international pressure continues to be applied. The government’s stated policy of sequencing justice to follow a Truth Commission must also be evaluated in this context. 

A number of interventions by States in Geneva indicate that the government’s eloquent international promises are not being taken at face value. Over time, Colombo’s credibility will suffer and this will affect prospects for investment and the general impression of Sri Lanka globally. Meanwhile, the pursuit of universal jurisdiction cases will intensify. If justice is not served in Sri Lanka for crimes committed here, they will inevitably have to be pursued elsewhere.

WHAT’S NEW

ARTICLES

‘Govt’s Geneva Dilemma: Why Sincerity Matters’ by Niran Anketell on 3/8/2017

‘Geneva Disconnect’ by Darisha Bastians on 3/9/2017

‘Contextualising victim and witness protection for transitional justice: Part I’ by Medhaka Fernando on 3/14/2017

‘Operational models for victim and witness protection within transitional justice: Part II’ by Medhaka Fernando on 3/16/2017

‘Autonomy and decentralisation within witness protection activities: Part III’ by Medhaka Fernando on 3/17/2017

‘Forgetting the Past: A warning’ by Niran Anketell on 3/22/2017

• ‘How Sri Lanka Commissions away the Disappeared’ by Sri Lanka Brief on 3/19/2017

‘Foreign Judges can hear cases’ Interview of Niran Anketell by S. Ramiah on 3/26/2017

‘සංහිඳියාවට ව්යවස්ථාවක්’ by Saranee Gunathileke on 4/9/2017

‘උතුරේ සමාජ අරගලය මාධ්යට පේන්නේ බූරුවා ගහන අයට මළ ගෙවල් වගේ’ by Saminadan Vimal on 4/9/2017

PUBLICATIONS

‘Victim centered Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka’ by Centre for Policy Alternatives in February 2017

• Forthcoming: ‘Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka: Moving beyond Promises’ (online version) by Bhavani Fonseka

 

NOTABLE STATEMENTS MADE ON ACCOUNTABILITY AT THE 34TH UNHRC SESSION

Mr. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: “The consistent failure to effectively investigate, prosecute and punish serious crimes appears to reflect a broader reluctance or fear to take action against members of the security forces. Combined with a general lack of trust in the impartiality of the justice system regarding past violations, this continuing unwillingness or inability to address impunity reinforces the need for international participation in a judicial mechanism. For this to be credible, it should include a special counsel, foreign judges and defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.”

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: “Establishing a credible process of accountability, with the support of all communities, will be a key aspect of building this confidence and achieving meaningful reconciliation.”

European Union: “We further call on the Government to fulfil the commitments made on transitional justice, including through the creation of an accountability mechanism which is credible, victim-centric and supported by international practitioners.”

Belgium: “We nevertheless regret that little progress was made with regard to transitional justice and the investigation of numerous human rights violations. Combating impunity and strengthening accountability and the rule of law are long-standing Belgian priorities. We therefore fully support the recommendations on this matter made by the High Commissioner to the Government of Sri Lanka, in particular the recommendation to present a comprehensive strategy on transitional justice with a time-bound plan."

Germany: “Sri Lanka is still at the beginning of a long road towards accountability and reconciliation. Leadership and resolve as well as confidence building and credibility will be priorities.”

Denmark: “Denmark notes with disappointment the lack of progress on a number of emblematic cases suggesting systematic impunity. Such a practice can undermine the credibility of and popular support for the process of transitional justice. [...] Delivering on the implementation of the resolution in due time and keeping Sri Lanka on the path towards accountability and reconciliation requires determined political leadership by the Government of Sri Lanka. We therefore strongly encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to adopt a clear, time bound, and transparent strategy and plan of action for a solid and credible justice process with effective witness protection.”

United States of America: “These reconciliation processes are complex, but we had hoped to see greater and more sustained progress over the past 18 months [...] Government statements against international participation in any future Sri Lankan judicial mechanism raise understandable concerns among victims and families about the integrity of any judicial process. Yet lasting peace requires that the government remain committed in word and deed to implementing its international commitments fully.”

Switzerland: “Switzerland regrets the delay in the implementation of measures to ensure transitional justice and constitutional reform. Only a global reconciliation process with tangible measures for truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition could bring lasting peace and prosperity to the people of Sri Lanka.”

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