Together against Genocide, launched its report “No Justice, No Truth: Unfulfilled Promises of UN resolution 30-1 (Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights)” at the 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council last week.
The event saw diplomats addressed by a panel including the director of Together Against Genocide (TAG) Jan Jananayagam, Barrister at Mansfield Chambers Shivani Jegarajah, and Fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and Washington Post columnist Dr Kate Cronin-Furman.
Introducing the event, the director of Together Against Genocide (TAG) said that the report, to be released later this week, found that minimal progress had been made by Sri Lanka on the recommendations of the High Commissioner for Human Rights which were referenced in the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 30-1.
After outlining the methodology behind the progress report, Ms Jananayagam said,
“On looking at the recommendations of the resolution, and mapping them to which of the 33 recommendations of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation into Sri Lanka’s (OISL) report they refer to, our conclusion is that very little has been implemented.”
Speaking on institutional reform Ms Jananayagam further noted the “Sri Lanka simply doesn’t have the legal framework to deal with the systemic crimes against humanity outlined in the OISL report. On security sector reform, she added that the intense militarisation of the Tamil North-East remained and raised concern at Sri Lanka’s selective attempts to vet military soldiers, stating,
“The North-East is the most highly militarised regions in the world. If Sri Lanka vets the troops it sends out on peacekeeping missions without betting those remaining on the island, it actually means that you have a higher concentration of mass atrocities perpetrators on the streets of the Tamil North-East. So partial implementation of security can be counter productive. “
Dr Kate Cronin Furman went on to highlight underlying political barriers in progressing on accountability and transitional justice in Sri Lanka.
Noting demographical challenges in Sri Lanka, Dr Furman said, “In practice accountability and justice in places were mass atrocities occurred also depends on politics. Transitional justice is a very hard sell when either of two things are true. One is that Perpetrators remain powerful even though they are not explicitly in office. The other is when large sections of the voting population oppose accountability. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka both these things are true.”
Highlighting that pursuing accountability and truth telling was extremely difficult when Sri Lanka’s majority community was against such measures, Dr Furman added,
“Perhaps a bigger issue is the opposition of the Sinhalese population. The demographics in Sri Lanka make it extremely difficult in terms of implementing transitional justice. The Sinhalese make up ¾ of the population. And for most part this is a population that views the military as war heroes, does not believe that war crimes occurred and views calls for accountability as an attack.”
Dr Furman went to add that other transitional justice processes had been different because even if the perpetrators were in power, the voting public wanted to see accountability and justice, so a compromise was met.
“The implication of these dynamics Is that when perpetrators are still powerful, but the voting public does want to see accountability we see truth processes. Truth commissions without the prosecution, that’s what we’ve seen in Chile, Liberia and South Africa,” she said.
Adding that the current domestic conditions didn’t look conducive for transitional justice, no matter how genuine a select few individuals of the new governance were, Dr Furman said,
“What all of this says is that Sri Lanka is a very hard case for Transitional Justice even if members of new administration are sincere, a robust process looks unlikely under the domestic conditions.”
Calling on the need for sustained pressure and the international community to be aware of the political realities on the ground in Sri Lanka she added
“To me this means that the over enthusiastic response we’ve seen by governments to some small progress by the new government are naive to the political realities on the ground. Even with international involvement, the only way this works is if domestic politics shift. If the international community is serious about justice for mass atrocities in Sri Lanka, it needs to be pushing for security sector reform and pushing for an extensive outreach to the Sinhalese public to educate them on atrocities that occurred and need for accountability.”
Jan Janayagam further highlighted Sri Lanka’s failure to effectively address the truth telling aspect of the resolution, noting,
“Even in truth telling, there is a selective domestic implementation. Sri Lanka is yet to circulate the OISL report in Sri Lanka, or even screen the No Fire Zone documentary domestically.”
Barrister at Mansfield Chambers Ms Shivani Jegarajah went on to stress that Sri Lanka’s lack of progress on accountability was not purely due to incompetence, stating,
“The point I really want to get a cross, is that the failure implement the UN recommendations is not due to incompetence. It is completely consistent with a sophisticated political agenda that was set out in Sri Lanka’s Paranagama report in August 2015. As early as August 2015, the Sirisena government had a clear poetical ideology in terms of what they were going to do. The Paranagama report says it does not regard the need for prosecutions as a position of international law.”
Highlighting the fundamental problem of a lack of political will even among the academics of Sri Lanka for accountability, she said,
“It’s not an institutional problem, it’s a fundamental problem of political view. Sri Lanka’s Paranagama report very clearly argues that prosecuting people an obstacle to reconciliation. It’s a clear and robust rejection of everything the UN negotiations have been about.”
“The report argues that there’s nothing in international law that requires you to prosecute and bring perpetrators to justice.. The report adds that the best way to go forward is through reconciliation. That has been Sri Lanka’s position since 2015. Even if Sri Lanka ratifies international treaties, there is an absence of domestic legislation that criminalises war crimes mass atrocities and disappearances,” Ms Jegarajah added.
The event also saw the screening of Together Against Genocide’s latest documentary “Voices from the North.” (Tamil Guardian)