We, the undersigned Sri Lankan civil society activists and organisations, welcome the report of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka, and the report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL). We fully endorse and call for the immediate implementation of the OISL’s recommendations to the GoSL, the UN system and the Member States of the UNHRC.
We also note the statement of Hon. Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, at the General Debate of the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 14 September 2015. The Minister informed the Council that the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) ‘recognises that the process of reconciliation involves addressing the broad areas of truth seeking, justice, reparations and non-recurrence, and for non-recurrence to become truly meaningful, the necessity of reaching a political settlement.’
We welcome the numerous positive commitments by the Minister, such as to ‘review and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)’, criminalise hate speech and enforced disappearances, sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (CED), and invite UN Special Rapporteurs to undertake visits to Sri Lanka in 2015. We welcome in particular the promise to publish previous commission reports such as the Udalagama and Paranagama Commission reports by the end of September 2015.
We acknowledge the Minister’s reference to those in ‘positions of responsibility’ and understand such reference to be an implicit commitment to ensure that decision-makers are held accountable for grave breaches of international law.
We wish to flag with deep concern the continuing violations of human rights that have occurred since January 2015. We are particularly concerned about the high prevalence of surveillance, harassment and intimidation of Tamil civilians, human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organisations, by members of the security forces and law enforcement authorities. In addition, a disturbing number of incidence of abduction, arrests, detention, sexual violence of women and children, attacks on religious groups, and torture, have been reported during this period.
Noting the absence of any acknowledgement of such continuing violations in the Minister’s statement on 14 September, we ask that the GoSL take immediate steps to end such ongoing violations and bring perpetrators—including members of the security forces and law enforcement officials—to justice. The absence of credible domestic investigations into allegations against the security forces and the recent promotions of military officials implicated in serious violations of international law are troubling indicators of the present government’s lack of political will to hold security forces accountable.
We appreciate the Foreign Minister’s acceptance of broken promises of the past, mistakes of the past and weaknesses of our institutions. We note his acknowledgement that the short-sighted and triumphalist policies since 2009 had been among reasons for post-war reconciliation being elusive. It is in this light that we endorse the OHCHR’s observations that ‘the past years have seen a total failure of domestic mechanisms to credibly investigate, establish the truth, ensure accountability and provide redress to victims of the serious human rights violations and abuses’ in Sri Lanka.
The present Government bears the burden of delivering on its promises and regaining the confidence of victims and survivors. In light of the Foreign Minister’s commitments not to cower behind distorted concepts and principles such as sovereignty, and to address weaknesses and deficiencies with the help of the international community, we call upon the GoSL to:
1.Commit to a political and constitutional settlement of the ethnic conflict based on meaningful power sharing.
2.Introduce domestic statutory reforms to incorporate international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, without statute of limitations.
3.Incorporate modes of liability with respect to international crimes such as command responsibility and joint and co-perpetration into domestic law.
4.Provide for the appointment of international judges, lawyers, prosecutors and investigators to a special hybrid court as recommended by the OISL Report. Moreover, facilitate the appointment of international experts to other transitional justice mechanisms, in full compliance with international standards and best practices.
5.Invite the OHCHR to establish a full-fledged country presence to monitor the human rights situation, advise on implementation of the High Commissioner’s recommendations, past HRC resolutions and recommendations of various UN bodies and provide technical assistance.
6.With support from the OHCHR, hold broad consultations with all relevant stakeholders, particularly survivors and their families, and civil society groups, including those from the North and East, with a strong commitment by the government to take on board sentiments expressed therein, prior to finalising any mechanisms.
7.Publish in full, by the end of September 2015, all reports of Commissions of Inquiry that have inquired into human rights violations in the past.
8.Initiate a high-level review of the PTA and its regulations and the Public Security Ordinance Act with a view to their repeal and the formulation of a new national security framework fully complying with international law.
9.Criminalise enforced disappearance through special legislation, and establish a permanent Office of Missing Persons with strong involvement of families of disappeared persons, civil society, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the international community.
10.Sign and ratify the CED including recognition of article 31, Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and also extend standing invitations to all Special Procedures of the HRC.
11.Guarantee protection to witnesses and victims of crimes, including international crimes, in keeping with international standards and best practices.
12.Formulate a plan to ensure adequate reparations to victims in keeping with international standards and best practices.
13.Enact, with immediate effect a law on the Right to Information.
14.Establish a special mechanism to fast-track and bring to justice all perpetrators of sexual violence against women and children.
We call upon the Member States of the HRC to ensure that the consensus resolution on Sri Lanka to be adopted at the present Council session endorses the positive commitments of the government, findings and recommendations of the OHCHR reports, and our above calls. We also call upon the Member States to ensure that the resolution mandates the OHCHR to keep the Council informed of progress made by all parties in implementing the recommendations of the OHCHR reports, by reporting back at regular cycles within a two year period.
1.Ameer Faaiz – Attorney-at-law
2.B. Gowthaman – Attorney-at-law
4.Bhavani Fonseka – Attorney-at-law
5.Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe
9.Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
13.Hasanah Cegu Isadeen
16.K. Aingkaran – Attorney-at-law
17.Kusal Perera – Journalist
18.Marisa de Silva
20.Mujeebur Rahman – Media person, Mannar
21.Nalini Ratnarajah – Woman Human Rights Defender
22.Navaranjini Nadarajah – Sureka
25.Niran Anketell – Attorney-at-law
27.Rev. Fr. J. Raj Claier
28.Rev. Fr. Nandana Manatunga
29.Rev. Fr. V. Yogeswaran
30.Rev. Sr. Beatrice Fernando, SDS
31.Rev. Sr. Nichola Emmanuel
36.Shreen Abdul Saroor
40.Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)
41.Centre for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CPPHR), Trincomalee
42.Citizens Voice for Justice and Peace
44.Families of the Disappeared (FoD)
46.Human Rights Office, Kandy
47.INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
48.National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO)
49.Right to Life (R2L) – Human Rights Centre
50.Rights Now Collective for Democracy
51.Rural Development Foundation
52.South Asian Center for Legal Studies (SACLS)
53.Women’s Action Network (WAN)