The UNHRC pointed out that due to the lack of a comprehensive strategy in hearing the war crimes related cases, Sri Lanka could lose out on the opportunity to bring about lasting peace, stability and reconciliation in the country.
The report, published yesterday, which was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to assess progress made in tackling the legacy of grave violations in Sri Lanka between 2002 and 2011, commends the constructive engagement of the Government of Sri Lanka with the UN’s human rights bodies, marking a discernible change in policy.
However, President Maithripala Sirisena has on several occasions stressed that no foreign judges will be included in investigations pertaining to allegations of war crimes.
Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge has also stated that at this juncture, bringing in a new Constitution was more important than the accountability issue.
Addressing the Executive Committee and the Joint Committee meeting of the SLFP at the Colombo Foundation Institute on Thursday, President Sirisena reiterated that he was committed to protecting Sri Lanka’s integrity in the international arena and would not allow foreign judges to be included in the country’s domestic mechanism.
Mangala makes repeated promises:
The UNHRC report further states that while some advances on constitutional reforms, on crucial issues like land restitution and symbolic gestures towards reconciliation, as well as legal reforms and the design of an Office of Missing Persons has been made, the structures set up and measures taken until now have been inadequate, lacked coordination and a sense of urgency.
Addressing the 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva recently, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said legislation to give effect to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, and published in the Government Gazette, and is expected to be tabled in Parliament shortly. It is expected to be tabled in parliament within the next few days.
Expressing his views to the BBC Sinhala service in Geneva, Mano Thiththawella, a member of the Sri Lankan delegation said the Office of the Missing Persons will be established within the next few months.
Thiththawella who is the Coordinating Secretary of the Reconciliation Commission told the BBC Sandeshaya that they had asked for a further two years to ensure transitional justice and added that Sri Lanka would submit a joint report to the UNHRC together with Britain and the United States.
“Party politics, including the balancing of power between the different constituencies of the coalition in the run-up to constitutional reforms, have contributed to a reluctance to address difficult issues regarding accountability or to clearly articulate a unified position by all parts of Government. Unclear and often contradictory messages have been delivered on transitional justice mechanisms. Public messaging around transitional justice and reconciliation has been generally confusing and at times contradictory,” the report states.
However, the Committee appointed by the government to seek public comments in the reconciliation mechanism, was commended by the UN High Commissioner.
The laudable, inclusive work of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanism, appointed by the Government to obtain the views of over 7,000 citizens, was suggested to be included in an incisive report, including several other recommendations.
UN High Commissioner’s recommendations:
Calling on the Government to embrace the report of the Consultation Task Force, to formulate a communications campaign to inform the public about details of the reconciliation agenda, to invite the UN Human Rights Office to establish a presence in Sri Lanka, to give the highest priority to the restitution of all private land that has been occupied by the military, and to adopt legislation establishing a hybrid court.
The report also highlights a number of serious human rights violations that are reportedly continuing to occur in Sri Lanka, including the harassment or surveillance of human rights defenders and victims of violations, police abuse and excessive use of force, and the use of torture. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has stated that the complaints it receives indicate the “routine use of torture by the police throughout the country as a means of interrogation and investigation.” The report notes that the “prevailing culture of impunity for perpetrating torture has undoubtedly contributed to this situation.”
“The authorities at all level, from the head of State to military, police, intelligence and local-level leaders, need to publicly issue unequivocal instructions to all branches of the military, intelligence and police forces that torture, sexual violence and other human rights violations are unequivocally prohibited and will be punished,” Zeid said. “And such violations need to be promptly investigated without fail. This is essential to regain and retain the trust of all Sri Lankans in the authorities, and to reassure them that the State exists to protect the rights of all its people.”
The High Commissioner will present the report to the Human Rights Council on 22 March in Geneva.