Sri Lanka: Hope flickers as justice still proves elusive

Time is running out for the Sri Lankan authorities to deliver on its 2015 commitments to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence, Amnesty International warned today in a new briefing.
As the tenth anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s internal conflict looms in May, progress on UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 has proceeded at a glacial pace, the hopes of the victims of crimes under international law and human rights violations and abuses during the conflict have been reduced to a flicker.
“Where we have seen welcome and notable progress, it has been frustratingly slow. Meanwhile other commitments have seen no progress at all, especially when it comes to accountability. With the ten-year anniversary of the end of the conflict fast approaching, how much longer must the victims wait for the justice, truth and reparation they deserve?” said Dinushika Dissanayake, South Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.
“The Sri Lankan government and the international community must ensure that work on Resolution 30/1 is a priority going forward. Any extensions given to the Sri Lankan authorities must include clear, time-bound deadlines for delivery. The transitional justice process must not fall of the agenda.”
Glacial progress on disappearances, reparations and land
The new briefing, Flickering Hope: Truth, Justice, Reparations and Guarantees of Non-Recurrence in Sri Lanka, highlights key advances made – including the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), the publication of the office’s interim report, and the return of land that was long occupied by the military to communities in the orth.
However, as the briefing points out, the recommendations of the interim OMP report have yet to be implemented. An Office of Reparations Bill was passed in October 2018, but the office itself has not been established.
While substantial portions of land occupied by the Sri Lankan military for several years has been returned, communities remain displaced. By some estimates, the total land occupied by the military amounted to tens of thousands of acres. In October 2018, President Maithripala Sirisena finally called on the authorities to return land in the north and the east to its rightful owner by the end of the year. The authorities are yet to fully comply with this request.
Scant progress on accountability
There have been welcome investigations opened into cases of attacks on journalists, human rights defenders, religious minorities and civil society organizations. These investigations, however, have not resulted in any convictions.
There has also been dismayingly limited progress on accountability for torture, rape, sexual abuse and gender-based violence. Delays in prosecutions also extend to human rights abuses committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Under Resolution 30/1, a judicial mechanism – including the participation of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, also referred to as ‘hybrid courts’ was proposed by the Sri Lankan government. To date, there has been no progress on this front. In fact, the government has only backtracked on its own commitment.
Legal reforms
One of the most notorious drivers of abuse during the conflict years in Sri Lanka, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, still remains on the books and has not been repealed. The proposed law to replace the PTA – the Counter Terrorism Bill- does not meet international law and standards. In the present form, it will remain open to abuse by the security forces as the PTA. The law relating to victims and witness protection also needs to be amended to bring it in line with international law and standards.
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