Creating reconciliation

Tuesday, 14 June 2016 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka has returned to the spotlight at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), but with a different outlook. Gone are the days when it was fighting tooth and nail for its survival and fending off international investigations, but Colombo now has to face the tough challenge of winning acceptance through implementing reconciliation measures that could be politically dicey. 

The UNHRC June sessions, which kicked off Monday, will also include a verbal update from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, based on his visit to Sri Lanka last year and have insights into where international expectations for Sri Lanka’s efforts lie.  


During the opening address of the June sessions, Zeid insisted there needs to be inclusive and meaningful engagement of all Sri Lankans when implementing the resolution on Sri Lanka adopted by the UN Human Rights Council last year.

Speaking during the opening of the 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that in Sri Lanka, the Government’s efforts to implement its commitments in Resolution 30/1 will require a comprehensive strategy on transitional justice that enables it to pursue different processes in a coordinated, integrated and appropriately sequenced manner.

However, President Maithripala Sirisena in an interview published days before the UNHRC sessions reiterated the Government stance that foreign judges were not an option though foreign expertise might be called on in special circumstances. This core issue is likely to remain the central challenge for the Government as minority communities continue to emphasise its integral role to bring closure to families. 


The political fallout from availing of foreign judicial and legal expertise will be a chance the Government, already struggling with deeply unpopular economic policies, will stave off as much as possible. But it is this same stance which will create hurdles in navigating its relations with the international community. To help this balancing act the Government has already pushed forward with several other policies it can implement with less damage to its own political future. The Office for Missing Persons, releasing certificates for the disappeared and rolling up the Presidential Commission on War Missing are some of the fresh steps taken by the Government to keep faith with the minority communities. Its testing of the waters has come with tough compromises, according to reports, with the President and the Prime Minister having to reassure military commanders of the Government’s backing. 


The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is another area where the Government has made substantial progress. Authorities have released some PTA detainees on bail, “rehabilitated” others, and promised to charge and prosecute the remainder. However, the Government has still not put forward a plan to provide redress for those unjustly detained under the PTA, or addressed the issue of detainees charged and prosecuted solely on the basis of coerced confessions obtained during detention, human rights organisations have pointed out.

Clearly the Government has to work harder to link the Tamil community and international actors with the Sinhala population to make the latter understand and accept the necessary compromises for a true peace.