Government must address demilitarisation, disappeared persons, land return and political prisoners

Presenting the report following her October 2016 visit to Sri Lanka, Special Rapporteur, Ms Rita Izsák, said “I acutely felt the mounting frustrations across the country about the pace of progress; a situation that seems even more critical today than it was when I undertook my visit.”

Statement by Rita Izsak -Ndiaye, Special Rapporteur On Minority Issues at  the 34th session of the Human Rights Council 15 March 2017

Mission to Sri Lanka
I conducted a country visit to Sri Lanka between 10 and 20 October 2016. I sincerely thank the Government for its invitation and excellent cooperation with my mandate.
The National Unity Government established in January 2015 has brought a great deal of hope to
the country, with an ambitious set of constitutional and governance reforms. Achieving peaceful
coexistence after the long and devastating civil war requires a comprehensive, well -planned and
well-coordinated truth, reconciliation, healing and accountability process. While such goals cannotbe accomplished overnight, I acutely felt the mounting frustrations across the country about the pace of progress; a situation that seems even more critical today than it was when I undertook my visit.
It was evident that the long conflict and the prevailing culture of impunity that has remained unaddressed have created a clear trust deficit vis-à-vis the State as well as between the communities in Sri Lanka. I observed the polarized social and political environments and divisions that cut across society through ethnic, religious and linguistic lines. Adversarial ethnicization of politics not only works against the reform -and the much-needed national reconciliation processes, but has left the minorities with an overwhelming sense of marginalization. The frustration of Tamils, Muslims, Plantation Tamils or the numerically smaller minorities regarding systemic social and political marginalization was pervasive. In particular, minority women, who are often at the forefront of the struggles for truth and reconciliation, face additional challenges to their inclusion in decision – making and power structures.
Five months have passed since my visit, when I urged the Government to seize the momentum and to put in place some immediate, important and concrete measures to clearly demonstrate its political will and commitment to better protect the country’s minorities. Today, I repeat this message. Unless those critical issues which are among the most pressing and emotive, especially for the Tamil and Muslim communities – such as those relating to demilitarization, disappeared persons, land return and security -related detainees – are immediately addressed, there is a real risk that this hard-earned momentum would be lost.
The constitutional reform and the transitional justice process present an unprecedented opportunity to address the past, regenerate trust at all levels of society and shape a common vision of the future for Sri Lanka. It is an opportunity to strengthen and rebuild the Sri Lankan identity, to foster a stronger sense of belonging and togetherness of all Sri Lankans.
It will be crucial to build in a strong minority rights regime in the governance structure, putting in place legal and institutional guarantees for equality and non – discrimination for all. The protection and realization of the rights of minorities are instrumental not only to reduce communal tensions but are essential components of good governance. It is my sincere hope that, in its efforts to achieve national reconciliation and an inclusive society, the Government of Sri Lanka will implement the recommendations outlined in my report with a clear vision and road map, with timelines as necessary, including the eventual establishment of a Minorities Commission.

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