Accountability by example
As the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) unfolds in Geneva, there is greater need to address accountability issues within the country and provide strong examples of how rule of law is still respected within Sri Lanka.
Perhaps the strongest impact would be made by bringing to trial the offenders of the British tourist who was killed in 2011 in Tangalle. Despite the lapse of a year, nothing has been done to bring the trial before a judge and hand out punishments to the offenders. This oversight could have deep repercussions for Sri Lanka and this month will see heightened attention with the victim’s brother, accompanied by a British MP travelling, to Sri Lanka to review progress on the trial.
There have already been calls for the UK government to take strong measures to lobby for the trial to be taken forward. Moreover, Britain is a crucial part of the Commonwealth and has already taken the stance that they will back Canada to put Sri Lanka on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group Agenda (CMAG) if credible progress is not made on promoting human rights by Sri Lanka’s Government.
The brother of Khuram Shaikh will visit the country next week, according to media reports. Nasser Shaikh accompanied by British Labour Party MP Simon Danszuk will be in the country to find out the progress made in bringing those responsible for the killing to justice. No doubt, they will remember pledges given by President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself that justice will be served and will be keen to find out why such a process has not happened thus far.
Eight suspects including Tangalle Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman (UPFA) Sampath Vidanapathirana were arrested for allegedly killing the British national and sexually assaulting his girlfriend. Under pressure to maintain one of the country’s most lucrative industries, the ruling party initially expelled Vidanapathirana but later quietly allowed him to re-enter its ranks.
Khuram’s brother Nassar has expressed concern over the delay in the case against the alleged killers and had told that the lack of action “gives out the wrong message.” He had told media that it was “disheartening” that the suspects had not been brought to trial.
The case has been taken up by Simon Danczuk, a British Labour Party politician and the Member of Parliament (MP) for Rochdale, who has urged the British government to press the Sri Lankan authorities to get the case moving. Last December, he even called on the British Prime Minister David Cameron to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) if adequate steps are not taken in this regard.
Even though the Attorney General’s department has stated that they will formally charge the suspects, why they had to wait for well over a year remains to be answered. The suspects are to face charges of murder of the British national on Christmas Eve 2011 and causing grievous injury and sexual assault to his 23-year old Russian partner Victoria Alexandrovna.
The strong political undertone of this trial also does not bode well for judicial independence and the only way the Government can prove its credibility is by fast-tracking the process. Not only would such a move help burnish Sri Lanka’s battered international image but it would also go a long way to bolstering confidence in the State’s capacity for accountability.