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Truth And Reconciliation Needs Amnesty – NPC


[ A  delegation from South Africa will be visiting Sri Lanka to assist in the process of national reconciliation, headed by Ciril Ramposa]

The issue of what happened in the last phase of the war, and accountability for human rights violations and war crimes that are alleged to have been committed, has dogged Sri Lanka’s internal and external reconciliation process. The National Peace Council welcomes the new government’s readiness to tackle these problems. The government is proposing a two-pronged approach to dealing with the issue of war crimes and the ongoing UN inquiry into it. First, it is considering a domestic criminal trial process with the objective of prosecuting those who were allegedly involved in human rights violations, in the Sri Lankan courts, if there is evidence. Second, it is considering a reconciliation process similar to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). But unlike the South African version, the government has stated that its variant will not be for the purpose of amnesty but rather to facilitate the healing and reconciliation process of the victims.

The National Peace Council is of the view that if the TRC has no provision in it for amnesty, the perpetrator is unlikely to confess to the truth. This will reduce the prospect for healing. Therefore, we propose that the TRC should be given the power to grant amnesty where the accused accepts his guilt and agrees to make amends. The underlying rationale of a TRC is that knowledge of the truth of what happened will enable society to reconcile and move forward. In a time of war it is very difficult to find the truth of what happened. Due to the difficulty of obtaining evidence that meets the standard of criminal law, it is only if those who have knowledge of the wrong, or who were the perpetrators, confess that the truth will emerge. It is the prospect of receiving amnesty that will give any wrongdoer or perpetrator the incentive to confess to the truth. In South Africa those who confessed to the truth were given amnesty by the TRC. But not all who came before the TRC received amnesty. Out of over 7000 persons who applied for amnesty little over 1000 were granted amnesty.

It is now relatively common to see amnesties linked in some fashion to accountability processes designed to encourage former combatants to offer truth in return for non-prosecution or to participate in restorative or informal justice mechanisms. Conditional amnesties may also be used to prevent further violations by requiring beneficiaries to surrender, disarm and reintegrate, and to refrain from further violence. Such amnesties may retain the possibility of prosecution for those who fail to adhere to the conditions. In such contexts, amnesty is not offered to grant impunity to perpetrators, rather it is used strategically to achieve other objectives, such as truth, reconciliation and peace. The intentions and genuine efforts of those involved are also an important factor in assessing the legitimacy of various forms of amnesty. So too is evidence of more general national and international support for whatever truth and reconciliation process is embarked on.

Any investigation of the past, either in the form of an international inquiry or a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission would need to win the acceptance of the different ethnic communities who constitute the Sri Lankan people. The Northern Provincial Council has urged the team appointed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate the war in Sri Lanka, to comprehensively investigate and report on the charge of genocide in its submission to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2015.

Whatever model Sri Lanka chooses, the National Peace Council believes that looking at what happened over the longer period than the last phase of the war would be necessary. The South African Commission had a mandate that extended back from 1960 to the mid 1990s and not just any one phase. We note that a delegation from South Africa will be visiting Sri Lanka to assist in the process of national reconciliation. We believe that this effort to pursue the path of truth and reconciliation can go a considerable part of the way to heal the wounds of the past and open the door to a shared future that is in the best interests of all Sri Lankans.

Governing Council, The National Peace Council

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