SEPTEMBER 2016

TJ INSIGHT

September has been a quiet month on the Transitional Justice front. On 20th September, the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms held an open dialogue with some civil society actors to discuss progress on the Transitional Justice agenda and receive ideas and suggestions regarding the setting up of the Office on Missing Persons as well as other mechanisms. During this meeting, it became clear that the pace for the establishment of other mechanisms: the Truth Commission, the Office on Reparations, an Investigative and Prosecutorial Unit and the Special Court will depend on the timing of the release of the Consultation Task Force report as well as progress on the negotiations for the new constitution. Political actors across the board appear to agree that the unveiling of new TJ mechanisms ought not to interfere with the constitution making process.
During the open dialogue with civil society, Mr. Mano Tittawella further indicated that the draft legislation on the Truth Commission and the Office on Reparations are likely to be tabled in parliament first, while the legislation on the other two remaining mechanisms will be made public a few months later. The rationale for the sequencing approach put forward by the SCRM is unclear and its suitability to the Sri Lanka context questionable. SACLS has in the past strongly opposed a ‘truth first, justice later’ approach in Sri Lanka and will continue to do so.

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PERVASIVE SURVEILLANCE IN SEVERELY AFFECTED AREAS: THE SUREST WAY TO ALIENATE VICTIMS FROM THE TJ PROJECT.

In an article published a few days, human rights activist Shreen Saroor notes the incidence of harassment and physical abuse of victims who have campaigned for accountability and human rights in the North and East. Incidents of this type erode victims’ confidence in the process and ought to be taken seriously.
Equally disturbing is the level of formal and informal surveillance that persists in some parts of the Northern and Eastern Provinces, especially in the Mullaitivu district. Community groups and human rights activists report systematic surveillance of all their activities, and continued harassment of those involved in human rights related work. SACLS staff have experienced harassment, intimidation and informal surveillance first-hand. We have discovered attempts to secretly record workshops in which victims participated. On one occasion an SACLS staff member was threatened by men in civilian clothing claiming to be working for ‘intelligence’ and told to leave the area immediately. Incidents of this type are common place. As a result, the sense of fear is still very palpable throughout the region. In this context, even minor incidents trigger intense anxiety within the community.
Although surveillance does not necessarily lead to systematic acts of physical violence, it creates social tensions and breeds resentment within communities, and towards those outside. It further prevents those most affected from participating in the Transitional Justice project. Therefore, ending this culture of fear arising out of pervasive surveillance and intimidatory tactics undertaken by the military must be considered a priority. It will require clear instructions to the security apparatus, the adoption of laws and guidelines to regulate intelligence and surveillance activities, and a system of accountability to punish those who fail to comply with prescribed guidelines. In addition, other pressing agenda items including the repeal of the PTA and revisions to the Victim and Witness Protection Act must be expedited.

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