Language has a dramatic impact on access to justice

The report by former UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mónica Pinto based on her mission to Sri Lanka from 29 April   to 7 May 2017, was tabled to the UN Human Rights Council on 12 June 2017.

Ms. Pinto in her report said the language problems have a dramatic impact on access to justice and respect for fair trial and due process guarantees for Tamil-speaking people, and need to be addressed urgently. Commenting on the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, she said it has been during certain periods strongly divided along political lines.

“Since the change of government, some positive steps seem to have been taken, as five new cases were reportedly being investigated at the time of the visit,” it said.

Referring to impunity, the report said it was widespread and that it has become a normal occurrence, thereby contributing to shattering the public’s confidence in its judiciary.

The report said the victim and witness protection would continue to be a determining issue in the context of common crimes, abuses and violations committed by members of the security forces, as well as in the context of transitional justice mechanisms that have been created, such as the Office of Missing Persons, or that will be established, such as a truth-seeking mechanism or specialise court.

The report said while the democratic gains of the past two years must be welcomed, it is important to recognize that much more could and should have been done to manifest a commitment to genuine reform, in particular in the justice sector, and to create a meaningful and participatory transitional justice mechanisms.

There was a lack of equal representation of minority groups in the prosecution services and police force. “Problems related to language are very serious and have a very serious effect on justice and on the likelihood of obtaining a fair process if you belong to the Tamil community,” it said. Referring to impunity, the report said it was widespread and that it has become a normal occurrence, thereby contributing to shattering the public’s confidence in its judiciary and wanted the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

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