Hailing the Consultation Task Force report as “remarkably comprehensive”, a top New York-based rights watchdog Wednesday said that Sri Lanka’s response to the reports’ justice proposals “has been disappointing”.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the Consultation Task Force (CTF) report based on the first broad survey of Sri Lankan citizens on their aspirations for truth and justice, has highlighted “broad accountability concerns” in the country and urged Colombo to “promptly implement its recommendations”.
“However, the immediate response by senior officials has been disappointing. Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne both separately ruled out the participation of foreign nationals on the special court, while Finance Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene said that President Maithripala Sirisena rejected the inclusion of foreign judges and would not allow the government to prosecute war heroes,” the HRW said.
“The cabinet spokesperson claimed that Al Hussein had agreed that there should be no foreign involvement in the court during a previous meeting – a claim that Al Hussein himself immediately rejected,” the HRW noted.
Its Asia Director, Brad Adams said that the task force report “is remarkably comprehensive and clear in setting out the concerns and needs expressed by Sri Lankans across all communities on the transitional justice process”.
“The government should now own the report’s recommendations and set out a framework for putting them into action, in line with its pledges at the Human Rights Council,” he said in a statement.
After much delay on the part of the government to receive the report, the CTF presented its report to the government January 3. Key among the task force’s recommendations is the creation of a war crimes court comprised of both international and national judges and other officials, with no time limit on its jurisdiction.
The HRW noted that the support for this court “included ethnic Sinhalese, whose population suffered thousands of enforced disappearances three decades ago for which there has been no accountability”. The task force also recommended a countrywide response to disappearances, financial and symbolic reparations, a constitutional and political settlement, resolution of longstanding land disputes, and attention to psychosocial needs.
“The Sri Lankan government took the bold step of agreeing to a multi-ethnic task force for broad consultations on transitional justice. Now that the task force has listened to the country, it’s crucial that the government doesn’t drop its key recommendations,” Adams said.
“The government should recognize that its commitments were not only to concerned governments in Geneva, but to its own citizens seeking justice and reconciliation after a terrible war.”
The Consultation Task Force was formally appointed in February 2016, and began receiving submissions in April 2016 on the proposed mechanisms outlined in Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1, in which the government promised to deliver justice, accountability, and reconciliation in the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long civil war.
The 11-member CTF, aided by civil society representatives, received 7,306 submissions from the Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, and other communities, as well as the security services during the course of their hearings.
Sri Lankan governments have avoided addressing wartime accountability despite credible reports of thousands of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture, and sexual violence.
A new government, elected in January 2015, undertook a more conciliatory approach to domestic and international efforts to address the matter, and in October 2015 agreed at the Human Rights Council to establish at least four mechanisms on transitional justice, of which the consultations were part.
Sri Lanka is on the March 2017 agenda of the Human Rights Council, where High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is expected to report on Sri Lanka’s compliance with the resolution.