International transitional justice scholars call on SL to halt establishing truth commission

Thursday, 16 May 2024 03:19 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Over 70 international transitional justice and human rights scholars have urged the Sri Lankan Government to halt the establishment of a Commission for Truth, Unity and Reconciliation (CTUR) as it has been rejected by victim groups and the broader national context is not conducive for such a process.

The statement signed by leading authors and researchers of transitional justice from across the world also highlights concerns over the Government’s lack of political commitment towards genuine truth-seeking that could lead to justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

The statement said it recognises the right to truth as a key human right affirmed in UN treaties and other mechanisms and asserts that if conducted properly a truth-seeking process can contribute towards establishing the extent and the patterns of past violations, as well as their causes and consequences. In so doing, it can help reconcile deeply divided communities and help bring closure to victim-survivors, it said. 

“However, our research strongly affirms that such processes must be context-specific, inclusive and empowering of victims, and lead to justice and accountability. Importantly, a country must be ready for a truth-seeking process,” the signatories said. 

The concerns on the part of the scholars are three-fold. Firstly, they highlighted the lack of commitment thus far demonstrated by the Government, including through existing mechanisms such as the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) as well as their broader failure to protect the right to freedom of assembly and protest.

Secondly, the statement argued that the broader context is not conducive for the appointment of the CTUR where surveillance and suppression of rights activists and protests continue, legislative measures oppressive of civil and political rights are being enacted and there is a failure to take significant steps to guarantee economic and social rights following the 2021 economic crisis.

Finally, the statement emphasised the need for victims and witnesses to have faith in and be part of the process.

“The fact that victims of the crimes that the transitional justice seeks to redress are vehemently opposed to the formation of the proposed CTUR is a reason to not proceed with its establishment. It is now axiomatic that transitional justice mechanisms must be context-specific and designed, developed and implemented through effective victim inclusion,” it said. 

“Marginalising or excluding victims from the design of mechanisms can result in the denial of truth, justice, accountability and repair, which are the core aims of transitional justice, and in addition re-traumatise, abuse, and undermine victims and cause grave injustice,” it added. 

The statement called on the Sri Lankan Government to refrain from proceeding with legislation to establish a CTUR and instead work with the UN Human Rights Council fact-finding process to ensure truth and justice for victims of human rights violations. It additionally calls on foreign Governments, especially those with experience of having conducted truth-seeking processes, to stop supporting the Government with the current process.