Sri Lanka: Commit funds to support transitional justice process for victims of conflict

The Sri Lankan government must remain committed to delivering truth, justice and reparations to thousands of victims of the country’s civil war, said Amnesty International, ahead of tomorrow’s announcement of the national budget for 2021.

Following the government’s withdrawal of support in February for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution committing the country to a transitional justice process for victims, Amnesty International is deeply concerned that the budgets of two key bodies responsible for this work – the Office on Missing Persons and the Office on Reparations – may be scaled back.

Thousands of relatives and survivors who have suffered terribly from the conflict are depending on these mechanisms to provide the truth, justice, and reparations they have long struggled for
David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International

“Thousands of relatives and survivors who have suffered terribly from the conflict are depending on these mechanisms to provide the truth, justice, and reparations they have long struggled for. To close the chapter on this dark period in the country’s history, both bodies must be allowed to function effectively – their work, which is yielding some results, is far from finished,” said David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International.

“If their budgets are slashed, the government would cripple the limited gains made by the transitional justice process. This week, the authorities must allocate sufficient funds for both offices to continue their vital work to deliver effective redress for victims.”

In 2015, following a UNHRC investigation into “alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes” during the conflict, the then government of Sri Lanka co-sponsored the landmark UNHRC resolution, 30/1. This committed the country to a transitional justice process that promised to establish mechanisms to deliver truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence. The government renewed these commitments in two further UNHRC resolutions in 2017 and 2019, but only made modest progress delivering these commitments.

The Office on Missing Persons and the Office on Reparations are permanent offices set up by legislation in 2016 and 2018 respectively by the then government to fulfil the commitments in the UNHRC resolution.

Since coming into power in November 2019, the current government has stopped issuing interim relief payments to families of the disappeared, putting them under further financial strain. Fearing that the work of the Office on Missing Persons will enable war crime charges to be brought against the Sri Lankan military, the government has also stated that it will review the Act establishing the Office.

Sri Lanka’s history is replete with examples of domestic accountability mechanisms that have failed to deliver truth, justice, and reparations for victims or to hold perpetrators accountable.
David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International

After withdrawing its support for the UNHRC resolution earlier this year, the Sri Lankan government has said it will pursue a national effort to achieve “sustainable peace” through an “inclusive, domestically designed and executed reconciliation and accountability process.”

“Sri Lanka’s history is replete with examples of domestic accountability mechanisms that have failed to deliver truth, justice, and reparations for victims or to hold perpetrators accountable. It would contradict the government’s own commitments on reconciliation to stifle the effective operation of local mechanisms already in place. They must be given full backing, including sufficient resources,” said David Griffiths.

Background

The UN Office of the High Commissioner carried out an investigation into “alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes” during the conflict, publishing a landmark report in September 2015.

The Office on Missing Persons was set up in 2016 with a mandate, among others, to search for and trace missing persons and to clarify the circumstances in which such persons went missing. See here for more information on the Office on Missing Persons.

The Office for Reparations was set up in 2018 to identify aggrieved persons eligible for reparations, and to provide for the provision of individual and collective reparations. For Amnesty International’s evaluation of the progress on the commitments made by the Government of Sri Lanka in Resolution 30/1, see here.

For Amnesty International's response to the Sri Lankan government's withdrawal of support for the UNHRC resolution, see here.