By Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka.
A hard-hitting UN Human Rights Council report in September this year contained details of numerous allegations of what it said could amount to war crimes committed during the last phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war that ended in May 2009. Presenting the report to the Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said: “The sheer number of allegations, their gravity and recurrence and the similarities in their modus operandi, as well as the consistent pattern of conduct they indicate, all point to system crimes. Such acts cannot be treated as ordinary crimes: if established in a court of law, they may constitute international crimes, which are of interest to the international community”.
In a unanimous Resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, the Council called for a credible and fair judicial process with international involvement, that will help heal the wounds of war and usher reconciliation. Two months on, the Council’s recommendations such as security sector reform; return of arable and private land held by the army; development of accountability mechanisms; repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA); and devolution of political authority to Tamils – have made little or no progress in their implementation.
The Resolution crucially calls for the involvement of international judges, defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators to ensure the credibility of the justice process. The spurious assertion that enlisting foreign judges, lawyers and experts on legal and forensic matters will infringe the country’s Constitution is unhelpful. Such obstructive views should be overcome by the passage of legislation that will allow the enforcement of the Resolution the government itself pledged to implement. It is worth reminding ourselves that the Constitution is for the people, not the other way around. If there is a will, there is a way, and all obstacles can be surmounted.
Furthermore, witness and victim protection legislation – which lacks provision for protection units independent of the police – is yet to be implemented, making perpetrators of serious crimes accountable a non-starter. Besides, deep institutional changes are needed to guarantee non-recurrence of such horrendous crimes. Here again, international expertise can provide honest and invaluable assistance without fear or favour. Only then Sri Lanka can dispel widespread suspicions of the victims that a domestic court procedure will not serve them justice.
Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka strongly believes that full implementation of the UNHRC recommendations will achieve transitional justice to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses during Sri Lanka’s civil war, reconcile all its peoples in the true sense of the word, and set the path for meaningful devolution of power. Admission of past wrong doings by all sides will be a significant step that will speed up the transformation of the country, making it a role model for other conflict inflicted nations.
As recommended in the Resolution, we call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to abolish the PTA. Thus bring an end to the culture of impunity of the armed forces and the legal limbo of the Tamil political prisoners who have been lingering in the country’s prisons without trial for far too long. This is the very least the government can do to signify its readiness to make difficult choices for the restoration of civil liberties of all Sri Lankans.
(A press released issued by the Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka Inc.)
Wimal Jayakody, Sithy Marikkar, Shyamon Jayasinghe, Sarath Jayasuriya, Saliya Galappaththi, Ranjith Weerasinghe, Lionel Bopage, Lal
Perera, Jagath Edirisinghe, Cyril Gunarathne, Chitra Bopage, Ari Pitipana, Anura Manchanayake, Ajith Rajapakse