MAY 2017

TJ INSIGHT

The month of May has seen a subtle, yet significant, shift in the reform and political landscape of Sri Lanka. The coalition government has noticeably prioritized the constitutional reform process by convening the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly on multiple occasions this month. Unfortunately, the momentum for constitutional reform has diminished governmental interest in fulfilling Sri Lanka’s other commitments under Resolution 30/1. The government’s vacillation on this area has led to increased frustration among wartime victims and their families. Most strikingly, the protest campaign launched by the Families of the Disappeared (FOD) in the North – seeking answers about the plight and whereabouts of loved ones– reached its hundredth day on the 30th of this month. In response, the Governor of the Northern Province has informed the FOD that a ‘committee’ would be appointed to look into their plight. Such assurances ring hollow in light of the failure on the part of the government to operationalize the Office on Missing Persons since August 2016. The latter half of May also saw the UNP and SLFP trying to shore up its ailing coalition by way of a Cabinet reshuffle. Minister Mangala Samaraweera who was heavily involved in the negotiations and discussions surrounding the Geneva resolutions –as Foreign Minister – now holds the portfolio of Finance and Media Minister. It is our hope that the new Media Minister would utilize his new portfolio to garner grassroots level support for transitional justice and institutional reform within the country.
Finally, and on a more troubling note, the month has also seen a sudden spike in racial/religious hate speech and violence towards minority groups in Sri Lanka. Regrettably, the government has meekly turned a blind eye and failed to arrest those responsible for this vitriol and violence – thus cementing the growing notion that it is not sincere in its undertaking to build lasting peace and justice within Sri Lanka.

WHAT'S NEW

ARTICLES

‘Sri Lanka: Anti-Terror Bill Revives Concerns of Abuse’ by Human Rights Watch on 5/18/2017

‘They Promised Us Answers’: Justice Delayed for the Disappeared’ by Centre for Policy Alternatives on 5/3/2017

‘Sri Lanka: The conflict’s legacy of impunity endures’ by Amnesty International on 5/18/2017

‘Sorting Bad Apples: Is Lustration the Answer to Sri Lanka’s Military Impunity?’ by Shamara Wettimuny, Groundviews on 5/16/2017

‘The Need to Reboot Reconciliation in Post-War Sri Lanka’ by Centre for Policy Alternatives on 5/19/2017

• ‘The Draft CTA Is of Concern to All Sri Lankans, Without Exception’ by Kishali Pinto Jayawaradene on 5/20/2017

‘Facing Sri Lanka’s Ghosts’ by Devon Haynie, US News on 5/18/2017

‘பொறுப்புக்கூறல்: நல்லாட்சியின் வாக்குறுதிகள்’ by Selvaraja Rajasegar, Groundviews on 5/25/2017

‘සංහිඳියාව ගොඩ නැගීමට ආණ්ඩුවත් කලාවත් දෙකම අසමත්’ by BBC Sinhala on 5/19/2017

‘සංහිඳියාවට නව ව්යවස්ථාවක් කුමටද?’ by Saranee Gunathilaka on 5/18/2017

PUBLICATIONS

‘Sri Lanka’s Transition to Nowhere’ by International Crisis Group on 5/16/2017

‘Justice Denied: A Reality Check on Resettlement, Demilitarization, and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka’ by Oakland Institute in 2017

SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST MEN AND BOYS IN CUSTODY: SRI LANKA’S OPEN SECRET?

A report published by the All Survivors Project– working in collaboration with the University of California Los Angeles and a number of Sri Lankan experts – on the 16th of May 2017 documents Sri Lanka’s untold (and unknown) legacy of sexual violence against men and boys, especially in the context of police custody and administrative detention. The preliminary findings of this report lend credence to allegations contained in the OISL Report that ‘men were as likely to have been victims of sexual violence as women’ during the conflict period. Drawing from interviews conducted with lawyers, human rights defenders, medical professionals and male survivors of sexual violence, the report also notes that this practice continues unabated even eight years after the cessation of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict.
The report has been published at a critical juncture when Sri Lanka is grappling with the contours of its judicial/non-judicial transitional justice mechanisms and is also attempting to reform its flawed counterterrorism legal regime. As noted in the report, Sri Lanka’s existing counterterrorism law – the PTA – has been the main instrument that has facilitated the commission of sexual violence against men in police custody and administrative detention. Under the PTA, the confessions made by suspects are admissible as evidence. In addition, the PTA only allows for minimal judicial oversight over administrative detention. These provisions have incentivized the use of torture including sexual violence. Troublingly, SACLS’ preliminary research on the proposed new counterterrorism law – the policy and legal framework of which was recently approved by the Cabinet of Ministers – indicates that its characterization of ‘terrorist offences’ is far wider (and more ambiguous) than even the PTA, with inadequate safeguards in place to protect detainees. The proposed new counterterrorism framework would therefore allow for a larger number of arrests and detentions with minimal judicial oversight. As such, the disturbing pattern of sexual violence against men in police custody and administrative detention is likely to continue in Sri Lanka, potentially on a much larger scale.
The report is also a timely reminder of the need to establish special structures, strategise unique approaches and capacitate the staff of the proposed transitional justice mechanisms to sensitively deal with crimes of this nature. Social stigma, community derision and cultural attitudes would undoubtedly dissuade many male survivors of sexual violence from approaching both judicial and non-judicial transitional justice mechanisms for redress. It is therefore important that these mechanisms adopt victim and witness protection and assistance measures specifically designed to suit male survivors of sexual violence. Moreover, as noted by the Consultation Task Force in volume one of its report, gender sensitivity in prosecuting sexual violence would require empathy towards the perspectives of male survivors as well. This will also entail safeguarding the identity and privacy of male survivors of sexual violence in order to garner their participation in the process.
The allegations relating to sexual violence against men and boys in custody reinforces SACLS’s repeated calls to promptly set up a credible judicial mechanism that can investigate and address Sri Lanka’s post-war impunity gap. Sri Lanka’s continuous failure to do so – as is evident through this report – has perpetuated human rights violations and a culture of impunity in post-war Sri Lanka.

In This Issue