As long as the Sri Lankan government ignores the findings of a taskforce, which examines crimes under international law and human rights violations and abuses during the country’s decades-long internal conflict, justice, truth and reparation for thousands of families who have suffered deaths and disappearances will remain elusive, Amnesty International said today.
The organization is dismayed by the Sri Lankan government’s casual disregard for the findings compiled by the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTF). The CTF published a detailed more than 700 page report with important recommendations on 3 January. However, neither the President nor the Prime Minister attended the handover of the report, while the Minister of Justice told reporters that he has “no confidence” in its findings.
“The Sri Lankan government expressly asked for this report with the taskforce appointed by the Prime Minister. More than 7,000 Sri Lankans from all walks of life, many of them victims of human rights violations, had the courage to come forward and give their views. Now that they have done the hard work, it is dismaying that the government is not taking seriously the taskforce report and its findings,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director.
If the government wants to show its commitment to justice for thousands of families who have seen their loved ones killed or disappeared it needs to pay stronger attention to the CTF’s recommendations.Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director
“If the government wants to show its commitment to justice for thousands of families who have seen their loved ones killed or disappeared it needs to pay stronger attention to the CTF’s recommendations.”
The CTF was appointed in January 2016 by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe with the mandate to carry out public consultations on mechanisms to advance truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence in Sri Lanka for the crimes under international law and human rights violations and abuses that were committed during the 26-year-long internal conflict.
The consultations are supposed to facilitate the establishment of key institutions, including an office on missing persons, an office for reparations, a judicial mechanism with a special counsel, and a truth justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence commission. The Sri Lankan government made this commitment when it co-sponsored an October 2015 UN Human Rights Council Resolution.
“The CTF’s work is a first and crucial step on a long journey towards lasting justice. The government should support that process not impede it in violation of its international obligations,” said Champa Patel.
The CTF’s work is a first and crucial step on a long journey towards lasting justice. The government should support that process not impede it in violation of its international obligations.Champa Patel
The CTF report is a landmark undertaking, drawing on more than seven thousand submissions from people, most of which were made at public meetings across the island. The report summarizes these often wrenching testimonies and lays out a series of recommendations based on input from the public.
Amnesty International supports the CTF’s urgent call for the Sri Lankan government to chart a roadmap for the establishment and efficient functioning of the proposed mechanisms.
As Parliament is set to debate a new constitution, Sri Lankan lawmakers have an important opportunity to uproot the entrenched culture of impunity by enshrining rights to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.
Lawmakers also have an opportunity to introduce legislation to break with Sri Lanka’s grim past and criminalize war crimes, crimes against humanity, and enforced disappearances.
“Instead of spurning the report the Sri Lankan government should seize this moment to initiate a national outreach program based on the recommendations from the taskforce report and lead the country through a roadmap for justice, truth and reparation” said Champa Patel.
Background and recommendations
The justice, truth and reparation roadmap for ending impunity.
One of the key ways forward, as suggested by the CTF, is the establishment of an overall monitoring body for all mechanisms. The monitoring body should include representatives from affected families, human rights and civil society groups, and the international community.
To uproot an entrenched culture of impunity, Sri Lanka must enshrine the rights to truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence into its new Constitution. The opportunity to do this is looming, with Parliament set to debate the new Constitution over the next few months.
Ending impunity must include accountability “of those who gave orders” too, as the CTF report says, including through a criminal justice process that will ensure “adequate, effective and prompt reparation and rehabilitation.”
War crimes and crimes against humanity must be criminalized and incorporated into the Sri Lankan law, including allowing for the prosecutions of such crimes committed in the past without amnesties or any other similar measure of impunity applying.
Legislation should be introduced to criminalize enforced disappearances in accordance with international law, and the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of victims should be promptly recognized by Sri Lanka.