Sri Lanka: Government Promises, Ground Realities
International Crisis Group
1 March 2012
Sri Lanka’s post-war course is threatening future violence. As its 19th session in Geneva begins this week, the UN Human Rights Council has a chance to do something about it.
Nearly three years since declaring victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the government has weakened democratic institutions, deepened ethnic polarisation and aggravated the country’s long-standing impunity for human rights violations. (…)
(…) There has been no progress on accountability for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both the LTTE and government forces during the final stages of fighting in 2009. (...)
(...) The government claims to need additional time to pursue accountability. Yet its narrow promises, past three years of denial, dissimulation and intimidation of critics, and decades of failure to implement the recommendations of past domestic commissions of inquiry show that what is actually needed is a dramatic change of course. The responsibility now falls on the international community to take up the issue. (…)
At the current session, members of the Human Rights Council should:
• Support a resolution on Sri Lanka that at a minimum:
a. calls on the government to implement immediately the recommendations of the LLRC report (…)
b. requires that the Council remain seized of the matter in its 20th session (…)
c. calls on the government to invite relevant special procedures to visit the country (…)
• Commit to assess the government’s progress at the Council’s 20th session and (…) if the government’s efforts with respect to accountability still fall short of international standards, to establish an independent international investigation.
• Make it clear to the government that promises of progress on human rights, reconciliation and accountability are insufficient to meet its international obligations, and that tangible, verifiable changes on the ground are what matters. (…)
• (...) Urge the Secretary-General to establish without delay the review of the UN’s own actions during the final stages of the war (…)
Assessing government claims and promises:
Accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity
Government claim: In his statement at the opening of the Council’s session, Mahinda Samarasinghe, the leader of the government’s delegation to Geneva remarked that the Lessons Learned Reconciliation Committee “offers detailed observations and recommendations on International Humanitarian Law issues relating to the final phases of the conflict” (…). He also claimed that:
• An “enumeration” of the number of people killed in the conflict in the north “is now complete and a detailed analysis will be made known in the near future” (…)
• The government “is committed to a mechanism for gathering and assessing factual evidence” regarding the “several specific episodes” the LLRC viewed as warranting further investigation; and the findings of this mechanism “will be placed before the Attorney-General for a decision in respect of instituting criminal proceedings”.
• Military courts of inquiry – convened by the army and the navy – “have commenced investigations into specific incidents identified by the LLRC”. (…)
(...) Reality: These claims and promises place only a thin veil over the government’s unwillingness to conduct genuine investigations into the many credible allegations of wrongdoing by both sides at the end of the war. (…) At a minimum, a credible domestic accountability process would include: (1) unqualified public commitments to accountability (…) (2) establishment of a new investigative body (…) and (3) substantial progress by the government in investigating specific alleged crimes (…)
Life after the lifting of the emergency
Government claim: The government routinely highlights the August 2011 lifting of the emergency regulations, which had been in force for much of the prior 30 years, as evidence of compliance with international human rights law and normalisation of life after the end of the war. (…)
(...) Reality: In fact, using his authority under the Public Security Ordinance – the same law under which emergency regulations were issued – the president continues to give police powers to the military in all districts of the country.
Continuing human rights abuses
Government claim: On the question of ongoing human rights abuses, the government’s primary response is to ignore them or to point to its long-awaited National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, which it is presenting to the Human Rights Council this session. (…)
(...) Reality: The National Action Plan is wholly inadequate to deal with the scale and severity of human rights abuses since the end of the war. With no provisions to respond to the culture of impunity that perpetuates violations, the plan is part and parcel of the government’s strategy of denial. (…)
The north and east: militarisation, displacement, detention, women’s insecurity
Government claim: The government insists that it is doing everything possible to restore normalcy in the former warzones in the north and east – ending displacement, releasing detainees and reconstructing damaged infrastructure. (…)
(...) Reality: Conditions for most of the hundreds of thousands of Tamils and Muslims resettled in the Northern Province remain poor, with limited rebuilding and few economic opportunities. Military installations – including large newly built permanent camps – continue to displace thousands. Nearly 19,000 IDPs remain in camps or transit centres, and more than 110,000 live with host families. Their difficulties are worsened by the heavy military presence: the estimated 150,000 military personnel deployed in the north (the government failed to respond to Crisis Group’s request for the official figure) monitor all activities and military leaders have a veto power on all political and development issues. (…)
A political settlement on devolution and minority rights
Government claim: The government says it is pursuing a “democratic, pragmatic and home grown” approach to the “national question” following a “consensus formula”. It also claims to be pursuing bilateral discussions with Tamil political parties and Muslim representatives in parallel.
Reality: After nearly a year of on-and-off discussions, government negotiators abruptly ended talks with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in mid-January 2012. The government refuses to meet with the TNA until it nominates representatives to the all-party parliamentary select committee (PSC) the government has established as its preferred method of devising a constitutional reforms to address long-standing grievances of ethnic minorities. (…)
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