Sri Lanka’s cabinet on Wednesday has approved to amend laws relating to witness protection in order to allow witnesses of crimes to testify from overseas.
The proposal made to the cabinet by Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa, however, stipulates that such evidences “may be given at a Sri Lankan Diplomatic Mission” of the respective country.
It was only May this year that Sri Lanka introduced the Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act. But the international human rights organisations and activists said that it lacked international standards.
“There have been requests to give witnesses from overseas under this act. Accordingly, it has been decided to amend the above act enabling victims and witnesses to give evidences from outside the country through audio visual media, without being present at the courts,” the government said on Thursday.
It, however, said that such evidences “may be given at a Sri Lankan Diplomatic Mission in the respective country and provisions should be enacted to protect the freedom of witnesses and prevent any influence”.
Several international human rights organisations and activists have been demanding Sri Lanka to strengthen its witness protection act and also to allow potential war crimes witnesses to testify from abroad in a manner that would not compromise the safety and security of their families and relatives in Sri Lanka.
Releasing a report based on the consultation with Sri Lanka’s war victims living abroad, International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) said last month that these witnesses of war crimes should be allowed to participate in the transitional justice process, including giving evidence before the transitional justice mechanisms from abroad.
It said interviewees have expressed the view that they would be willing to participate from abroad “provided that their testimony takes place in a confidential environment in which their identities are protected”.
“Confidentiality and the protection of identity are common to the work of Transitional Justice mechanisms. The Government of Sri Lanka should explore in consultation with the international community how this could be secured,” the ITJP said.
It said that examples of best practice including the Liberian example of Diaspora testifying abroad as well as the use of Rogatory Letters which can secure such testimony, can be looked.
“The Government of Sri Lanka needs to consider the giving of viva voce (oral) or recorded testimony of a witness by means of video or audio technology, as well as the introduction of documents or written transcripts, subject to this Statute and in accordance with the Rules of Procedure and Evidence,” the ITJP said.