The Tamil Civil Society Forum releasing a statement on 27 June 2016 under the signatures of Co – Spokespersons Kumaravadivel Guruparan and Elil Rajan said “The unwarranted praise and promotion that the Sri Lankan Government continues to receive from certain powerful sections of the International Community, which also ironically co-sponsored the resolution, will only encourage the Government to further withdraw from its obligations under the Geneva resolution and is unlikely to inspire them into honouring their commitments,”
Statement on the Government of Sri Lanka’s adherence to its obligations under the Geneva Resolution
In September 2015 the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on Sri Lanka, laying out the foundations for a process for accountability and justice in Sri Lanka, with the intention of giving effect to the recommendations of the OISL Report. The resolution mandated the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue to assess progress on the implementation of its recommendations and other relevant processes related to reconciliation, accountability and human rights and present an oral report at the 32nd session of the council. The report is scheduled to be presented on the 29th of June 2016. We wish to bring the following to the attention to the High Commissioner in this regard:
1. The Government of Sri Lanka ever since the resolution was passed, has put forward a narrative that the resolution was not imposed upon them by external actors but rather was voluntarily accepted and self-given. The paragraph of most significance in the resolution is operative paragraph 6 which emphasised the importance of participation in a judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators. In a statement released jointly by more than 40 Tamil organisations at that time1, we emphasised that the Tamil people’s unequivocal stance was that only an international judicial investigation would provide a fair chance for truth and justice but that we were willing to give a hybrid court a chance if such a court’s design and control was not left entirely to the hands of the Sri Lankan Government. We emphasised that we were willing to explore the possibility of supporting a court made up of a majority of UN appointed judges and prosecutors.
Despite describing the obligations under the resolution as voluntarily given, from the very beginning, the President of Sri Lanka chose to take the stance that the requirements of paragraph 6 will not be adhered to. The President has been categorical that foreign judges would not be included in the proposed judicial mechanism. When the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited the island, the High Commissioner’s press release at the end of his visit noted that both had assured their firm conviction with regard to the commitments that they had made. But even after the visit the President continued to claim that foreign judges will not feature in a judicial mechanism. More recently the Prime Minister has also publicly taken the position that there will be no foreign judges. We construe this stance of the Government as amounting to a fundamental breach of an important obligation in the UNHRC resolution. The breach is so fundamental that it throws into doubt the sincerity of the Government as to its commitment to implementing the obligations under the resolution as a whole.
2. The UNHRC resolution emphasises in paragraph 3 of the need to consult the victim communities in the design of the transitional justice mechanisms. A Consultation Taskforce was set up earlier this year but the consultation process is still in the process of being designed. It is in this context that a draft legislation has been tabled in parliament on the 22nd of June by the Government on the setting up of an Office for Missing Persons. No proper consultations have been held on this important piece of legislation with the families of the disappeared. The families were circulated a two page leaflet that was short on detail with regard to many important issues, and a meeting was hurriedly put together by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on short notice. Many organisations including TCSF have raised substantial concerns2 with regard to the proposals but the Government nevertheless has decided to present the bill to Parliament, indicating that the timing was purely designed to attract the attention of the High Commissioner in the lead up to his oral report. The attitude of the Government is indicative of the callous disregard for the need for a genuine consultative process. Given that the Prime Minister had declared earlier this year in Jaffna, that all those reported to have been disappeared must be dead, the whole initiative lacks bona fides.
3. There is no satisfactory progress on issues relating to re-creating normal conditions in the North and East of Sri Lanka either. While there has been some release of land in certain areas on the other hand the Government is continuing with the acquisition of land elsewhere in the North and East for the security forces. There is indicative of the lack of a coherent policy with regard to land release on the part of the Government. Illegal occupation of state land by the armed forces in particular continues without change. Even where land has been released there has been no de-militarisation. This is true of both Valikamam North in Jaffna and Sampur in Trincomalee. The release of political prisoners has been put on the back burner. Many prisoners continue to linger in prison without charge. The commitment to repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act still remains only in word and reports suggest that the legislation being drafted to replace the PTA may be similar or worse to the PTA in substance. The PTA continues to be actively used and arrests are particularly targeted at ex-LTTE cadres. The use of the PTA to terrorise ex-LTTE cadres continues to hamper their reintegration with society. White van abductions continue as documented by credible organisations.
4. The Government continues to deny that systemic crimes took place and is suggesting that only certain individual crimes took place during the war. This can only mean the Government’s rejection of the most important findings of the OISL report. The Government also continues to articulate that the purpose of the investigations would be to clear the name of the Sri Lankan security forces. This colours the motives of the Government’s intentions with the Transitional Justice process and does not inspire confidence as to its objectivity.
The Government of Sri Lanka believes that if it successfully handles and appeases the interests of different sections of the International Community of States that it can escape from the obligations laid out in the UNHRC resolution. The unwarranted praise and promotion that the Sri Lankan Government continues to receive from certain powerful sections of the International Community, which also ironically co-sponsored the resolution, will only encourage the Government to further withdraw from its obligations under the Geneva resolution and is unlikely to inspire them into honouring their commitments. The hope of the victims is that such narrow political considerations that drive member states in their assessment of Sri Lanka’s adherence to its self-owned obligations under the resolution will not cloud the assessment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights when he presents his report on the 29th of June. We hope that the High Commissioner will unequivocally identify the fundamental transgressions in the approach of the Government to the resolution thus far and further appropriately advice member-states of actions that may be required to ensure that the recommendations of the OISL report are given effect to.