All actions have stalled somewhat on the pledges made by the government of Sri Lanka to United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to address accountability and political reconciliation emerging from the country’s three decades of civil war that was brought to finish almost a decade ago in 2009 with the help of international community. Earlier as negative peace prevailed for many years UNHRC called for an investigation into what happened during the final stages of the civil war in 2009 and on the reconciliation efforts thereafter, passed resolutions in 2012, 2013 and 2014 against the island nation Sri Lanka. In 2015 Sri Lanka that was on the verge of receiving UNHRC sanctions was saved by the unity government by co-sponsoring the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. Regrettably due to political contradictions and political manoeuvres within the political parties in the government, it was unable to get on with any investigations and in 2017 it requested two years extension period to comply and received it. Today in 2019 the smokescreen set by UNHRC on Sri Lanka has not cleared and despondently the government is displaying its differences in international settings without adopting a clear strategy is in discussion with the international community to get them to relax some clauses in the UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka.
In the meantime a decade has passed without a national policy on reconciliation by the rulers, reflects the poverty of a holistic rule from the leadership of these “servants of the people” in Sri Lanka with their hidden motives and political interests reverberated by the shoddiness of delivery. There are many issues of the people from the civil-war that the government needs to resolve these includes returning all the military-occupied land belonging to civilians in war-affected areas, the release of political prisoners, ongoing work of the office on missing persons and efforts to set up the office for reparations. Despite pledges to release names of those forcibly disappeared since the war’s final months in 2009, in government custody the list was not produced. The government has made it clear that the law to give effect to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance would not be retroactive.
Sri Lanka pledged to undertake several human rights reforms, including transitional justice demands arising from the civil war, and to establish four transitional justice mechanisms, including a judicial mechanism with “participation of international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators” with an independent investigative and prosecutorial body. The civil society leaders, appointed by the government, conducted nationwide consultations in 2016, and handed a comprehensive report to the government in January 2017. It contained strong recommendations, including for a hybrid justice mechanism, acknowledging the need for independent international participation to ensure justice for victims of war crimes and other grave human rights abuses by all sides. The report included the need for justice for all victims of the long conflict, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or political persuasion. The report has since languished, with scant government attention that has been disappointing to the affected minorities.
On creating an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) it was decided without proper consultation with affected groups, particularly as it was passed before the national consultation was finished. The act therefore does not address some of its central recommendations, including the need for psychosocial support, victim and witness protection measures, a minority rights commission, and symbolic gestures to allow public grieving, such as commemorating their dead.
The government failed repeal or revise the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and reform the Witness and Victim Protection Law and drafts of the PTA floated could facilitate serious human rights abuses as they failed to meet international standards.
With a few exceptions, particularly in cases that generated considerable publicity, Sri Lankan police were not held accountable for routine torture and ill-treatment in custody. Use of torture by Sri Lankan security forces is routine, and continues despite government claims of security sector reforms. Constitutional Reform efforts have stalled and parliament had yet to debate the report nor has the government issued timelines for when a final report on constitutional reform could be expected.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as their main representatives in parliament have been highlighting these matters to the government and progress have been slow for comfort and bulk of the blame should go to the prevailing corrupt system of rule. Not surprisingly TNA leadership has been accused by its own alliance members for supporting such a government. Not surprisingly the people directly affected by the three decades of civil war in Sri Lanka want to move forward are disillusioned and are fed up and want the government to compensate their losses to rebuild their battered life.
Any government should be politically independent and unity government is no exception and its leaders cannot bring their personal agenda or political prejudices to bear on when executing their duties and functions. The government must come to terms with reality that UN monitoring will continue on Sri Lanka till all issues are resolved to enable the war battered country to go forward and delays would be injurious to the whole population not just to the people affected by the civil-war. The government representatives going to Geneva will no doubt obtain a further extension of period from UNHCR, probably two years to comply with the resolution. Based on past experience UNHCR before agreeing for any extension would no doubt expect firm commitments from the Government of Sri Lanka on a completion schedule covering all matters discussed giving a time frame on deliverables; more importantly send a monitoring team to verify and forward their review comments periodically over the extended period. No doubt there will be lot of hot air blown about monitoring from opposition and the government leaders must be prepared to face it.