Recommendations on Human Rights in Sri Lanka should be implemented

relatives of the missing srilanka tamils

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Madam Michael Bachelet’s Report on Sri Lanka submitted on 24th February 2022 for discussion is fully welcome which is also endorsed by the Sri Lankan Tamils and Tamil politicians due to its frank and forthright exposure with no mincing of words. This article analyses  some of her recommendations and observations to justify and support her findings.

Her call for Universal Jurisdiction is appropriate and just as it is exercisable  by member countries which have accepted it officially and a member country without any hesitation can enforce it by imposing sanctions against Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes.

Sri Lanka’s failure to uphold accountability is evident from 1956 with its sponsored pogroms targeting the Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1971, 1977, 1983 and during the war from 2006-2009. So far only a handful of security personnel have been convicted but most of them were released from prison due to Presidential pardon.

Sinhala nationalism and Buddhism have been exploited as the weapons of the Sinhala politicians since 1956 to secure political gains to capture power. This agenda was initiated in 1956 with the Sinhala Only Act introduced by the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandaranayake in 1956 and still continues today for electoral victories ignoring national interests.

The UN High Commissioner isabsolutely right about the situation of human rights under the present government  considering the arbitrary arrests, detention and torture of press and journalists including intimidation.

The UN High Commissioner’s  call for member states “To initiate contacts with victims and cooperate with them is a justifiable and right measure to substantiate the alleged allegations of human rights violations through international judicial measures which is a difficult task in Sri Lanka due to a politicized judiciary system. As such Universal Jurisdiction is the proper choice to net the perpetrators of crimes allegedly committed by them.

Her call for a genuine reconciliation and accountability is what matters most as past efforts of Sri Lanka though appearing to be genuine ended in total failure due to lack of political will and determination as Sinhala parties and Governments are always careful to not to antagonize the Sinhala voters for  victories in the general or local elections. Institutional and security sector reforms still remain in paper and words due to fears of incurring the wrath and opposition of security forces who have been enjoying entrenched impunity for the last 70 years which is firmly rooted in Sri Lanka/s judicial system.

As such a recurrence of violation will also remain entrenched in the system enabling and encouraging the security forces to indulge in human rights violations.

Militarization of the North commenced in 1961 when the army was called in to crush the non-violent peaceful satyagraha campaigns launched by the father of the Tamil Nation {Eelam] Samuel James Velupillai Chelvanayagam in the North and East of Sri Lanka boycotting the government offices and their functions. Since then militarization has  continued and has now grown to about 150,000 stationed in the north and about 30,000 in the East who are also engaged in running businesses like hotels, restaurants, agriculture, fishing etc thereby affecting the livelihood of the locals coupled with interference and exerting influence in the local governance and civilians welfare functions.

She has also pointed out that military checkpoints have come to stay in the North and East when there is no necessity and they have become spots of harassments and intimidations coupled with solicitation of bribes and exploiting women with sexual harrasments and demanding sexual favours..

Her comments on Prevention of Terrorism Act’s  [PTA’s} proposed amendments correctly expose the Governments’s superficial moves to placate the UNHRC, UN and the International Community. The core provisions of arbitrary arrests and detention etc. remain untouched and will be enforced to continue hauling up innocent persons particularly critics, opposition party members and more specifically Tamils and Muslims who dare voicing their dissent or criticism of the ruling Governments and top brass. Her reasonable call for a moratorium will be treated like blowing a horn in the ears  of a deaf man.

She has also exposed the active surveillance, harassment and intimidation of victims’ survivors, civil activists and those who organize protests including commemoration events. This has been an embedded practice of Governments’ since 2010 particularly targeting the Tamils in the North and East and will continue until peace and security of Tamils is restored. Even surveillance of rehabilitated LTTE members is continuing and they are living with  with fear and uncertainty due to  unnecessary surveillance.

Regarding the President’s promise of transitional justice, it is as usual a hoodwinking and shallow one as one can recall the  hundreds of promises made in the past by the Governments and Sinhala leaders which were purely meant for the consumption of particular audience, locality and occasion. Transitional justice for the victims will continue to remain as a pipe dream unless enforced by the International Community, United Nations and/or UNHRC.

Her request to initiate deeper and further with the legal institutional and  security reforms to prevent recurrence of grave violations is yet another one which remains frozen viewing the culture of impunity endorsed by the Governments as Sri Lankan leaders have vowed to shield the armed forces from any liability and prosecution forcing them to appear in any courts. This Recommendation will never materialize due to Sri Lankan Governments’ open commitment to protect their armed forces from civil or criminal liabilities.

Calling on Sri Lanka to stop its continuance of ignoring and denying accountability is yet another fruitless request which will neither be heeded nor taken care of viewing the entrenched culture of impunity firmly rooted in Sri Lanka’s system of justice

Calling for civic space, independent and inclusive institutions and ending the system of impunity will not be easy  to accomplish as state institutions are always manned and managed by state favored officials recommended by the Government which curtails the civic space with the institutions losing their independent functioning and inclusiveness.

It is the fervent hope and longing of Tamils in Sri Lanka and all over the world that accountability and justice will triumph and prevail after remedying the longstanding grievances of the Tamil victims of war and also trust and repose the faith on United Nations, UNHRC  hoping they will do their  utmost to prevent recurrences as well as issuing signals or warnings to any other member state so as not to indulge in human rights violations but to strive to uphold accountability and justice to redress the victims of human rights abuses committed by Governments which are subscribed to the UN and UNHRC Charters.

It has to be noted that the Sri Lankan Government has recently stated openly their rejection of HUman Rights Council’s Resolutions including all their Recommendations stating that Sri Lanka will not tolerate any external interferences with its internal affairs and sovereignty..

Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM London, Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo


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