Sri Lanka has made little progress in fulfilling its human rights commitments, observed a panel at a British parliamentary event hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPGT) joint with the All Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG).
The event on June 7th opened with the screening of the documentary ‘Silenced Survivors’, a film featuring harrowing testimonies of Tamil torture survivors, recounting their experiences at the hands of Sri Lankan military and authorities and raising their fears of ever returning. The film was produced by investigative journalist Emanuel Stokes.
Opening the panel, APPGT vice-chair Wes Streeting MP said that the group’s priority was following up on Sri Lanka’s commitments to the resolution passed at 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council.
“We are pressing our government to hold the government of Sri Lanka to account,” Mr Streeting said.
Ann Hannah of Freedom from Torture pointed out that while the UK government’s progress in recognising ongoing torture issues in Sri Lanka should be welcomed, the organisation remains concerned that the bar is too high for those seeking asylum.
Ms Hannah highlighted that “the government of Sri Lanka has railed against high international involvement” and also that the most recent UN resolution was a “compromise for survivors”.
Further stating that a political settlement should be seen as an inextricable part of accountability, Ms Hannah urged the UK government to ensure that it’s programs in Sri Lanka support the work of the Human Rights Council.
Janani Jananayagam of Together Against Genocide said that the only area of notable or durable progress was Sri Lanka’s ratification of the ICPPED (the International Convention for the Protection of Enforced Disappearances) but that the majority of the seven recommendations on justice remain unfulfilled, since neither the protocol of the Geneva Convention nor the Rome Statute had been ratified, and no domestic laws had been enacted to define war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and command responsibility.
Ms Jananayagam pointed to proposals for an Office of Missing Persons had been controversial due to the failure to hold public consultations as promised by the Sri Lankan government and highlighted several instances in which selective implementation of the resolution could prove counterproductive.
Further, Ms Jananayagam emphasised that most victims in the North-East are hardly engaged in the OISL process yet.
Chair of APPGT, James Berry MP, outlined the group’s three main concerns about Sri Lanka’s lack of progress. He stated that the consultation process had started belatedly, lacked the broad-reach it required to be effective and that not enough had been done with regards to witness protection.
Mr Berry also raised concerns about the composition of any tribunals, as Sri Lanka has repeatedly disregarded the requirement for international involvement. The APPGT are also concerned that nothing had been done about torture and attacks on journalists and human rights defenders, Mr Berry said.
Nicole Piche on behalf of the PHRG put forward questions to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office on what actions will be taken concerning accountability and also on how UK financial assistance to Sri Lankan would be allocated and spent.
US-based Taylor Dibbert spoke on confidence-building measures and reasons to be worried, underlining that “in Sri Lanka there’s no real conversation about demilitarisation.” Mr Dibbert pointed to the Sri Lankan government’s appointment of several problematic military figures to high ranking positions of authority.
Emphasising failure to fulfil ‘little things’ such as the release of Tamil political prisoners, Mr Dibbert said that Sri Lanka should not be allowed to go to Geneva and use constitutional reform as an excuse for lack of progress and to buy more time and space.
The event ended with a question and answer session in which members of the floor pointed out the vast amounts of Tamil land yet to be released by the army in the North-East and also the hugely disproportionate number of soldiers stationed in relation to the area of the North-East. (Tamil Guardian)