Sri Lanka Monthly Briefing Note | Issue No 01 – 1 May 2013
Period covered: 22 March 2013 – 31 April 2013
On 21st March Human Rights Council adopted resolution A/HRC/22/L.1/Rev.13 on Sri Lanka.
In short it calls for the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to implement a policy framework (constructive recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, LLRC) that will ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.
The Human Rights High Commissioner is entrusted to report back to the Council on the progress of the implementation of the resolution at the 24th (Sep 2013) and 25th (March 2014) sessions of the Council.
GoSL has not accepted the resolution and claims that it is not obliged to implement it. In their responses, various arms of the GoSL has called for dismantling the Office of the Human Rights High Commissioner (OHCHR), named the resolution a dangerous move and countries who voted for the resolution hypocrites. Further, GoSL has made contradictory statements on the Implementation of LLRC recommendations: Minister of Human Rights saying that 99% of them have been implemented and the Cabinet spokesperson saying that 50% has been implemented.
All coalition partners of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party opposed the resolution, branding it an anti-Sri Lankan, Western Imperialist plot. The major opposition political party, the United National Party (UNP), neither opposed, nor supported the resolution, but offered to join hands with the government in fully implementing the LLRC recommendations to evade international interferences. It criticized the GoSL for not implementing the LLRC recommendations and thereby creating space for UN intervention. The main Tamil political party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), supported the resolution and exclaimed that it was a victory for all Sri Lankans. Defeated presidential candidate and former army commander, leader of the Democratic party Sarath Fonseka, proposed that a proper domestic mechanism should be in place to address accountability issues to ward off pressure for an international investigation. Sinhala Nationalist Marxist parties also described the resolution as an Imperialist manoeuvre but did not actively oppose it.
The notable exception came from the groups belonging to Tamil Diaspora. None of the groups openly supported the resolution: Tamil Net web site, which propagate the demand for separate Tamil Eelam as a only viable solution for the Tamils in Sri Lanka criticized the resolution saying it is responsible for the ongoing ‘genocide’ of Tamils: The US based Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TATE) said that ‘Geneva Resolution is not a victory for Tamils, but a defeat for Sri Lanka’. It seems that Tamil Diaspora has in general, or at least its dominant segments have, moved towards a pre 2009 demand of Tamil Eelam.
GoSL continues to proceed with its own military tribunals to investigate human rights issues raised by the LLRC report. Issuing a statement, the Ministry of External Affairs said that inquiries into any allegations will be conducted only through the judiciary and military tribunals. Just 3 days after the said statement, the Military tribunal made their findings (not the report) known. The Court of Inquiry had concluded that the instances of shelling referred to in the LLRC Report were not caused by the Sri Lanka Army. Within a week, responding to a US report on Human Rights in Sri Lanka, the police spokesperson stated that the police rejected the allegations of torture of detainees raised in a US human rights report released by the State Department. Denial has become an entrenched policy which emboldens the widespread impunity.
Freedom of expression including the right to peaceful assembly faced most number of attacks during the period monitored. Jaffna based Uthayan Tamil daily and TNA were targeted repeatedly by criminals allegedly backed by the military. Popular vernacular language broadcasts of the BBC were disrupted by GoSL agents and BBC suspended its broadcasts on GoSL controlled the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). On several occasions the police sided with the Buddhist extremist violence against peaceful demonstrators and Muslim establishments.
On two occasions Sri Lanka Bar Association expressed their concern over the Independence of Judiciary: The first instance was when several district court Judges and magistrates who had not even completed their tenure of three years in their courts were transferred. Those Judges had opposed the impeachment of 43rd CJ Shirani Bandaranayake. The transfers were overseen by 44th CJ Mohan Peiris, who is a known supporter of the Rajapakse regime. The second instance was the promotion of Appeal Court Judge Justice Rohini Perera Marasinghe to the Supreme Court by the President Rajapakse, ignoring the two most senior Appeal Court Judges. Harassments against the 43rd CJ Shirani Bandaranayake continued, as Bribery Commission impounded her passport acting on rumors that she intended to leave the country.
Rule of Law and Democratic Governance too suffered a few blows. President Rajapakse rejected the call for constituting the Elections Commission on the ground that it is not necessary, although it is a constitutional requirement. The Democracy Index ranked Sri Lanka at 89 and placed in the category of “hybrid regimes” where elections have substantial irregularities that often prevent them from being both free and fair. The US Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012 said that government is dominated by the president’s family and elections were fraught with violations of the election law by all major parties and were influenced by the governing coalition’s use of state resources.
Religious freedom of minority communities were constantly threatened by extremist Buddhist groups who seem to be having the backing of the influential sections of the government, including the Police.
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