Since the country’s pledge to certain commitments in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) resolution 30/1, adopted four years ago, only six out of 36 commitments on reconciliation, human rights and accountability have been fulfilled while most commitments contained in Resolution 30/1 saw no change in implementation status over the past years, a study by Colombo-based think-tank Verite Research, showed.
“Commitments that remain partially fulfilled include the release of military-held land; the review, repeal and replacement of the PTA; and investigations into attacks on journalists, religious minorities and civil society actors. Commitments that remained in the ‘poor progress’ category include those on security sector reform and demilitarisation; devolution of power; and protection of witnesses and victims of crime,”. The research conducted on the commitments by Sri Lanka on five main categories; Transitional justice and reconciliation, Rights and rule of law, Security and demilitarisation, Power sharing and International engagement, individually studies the progress made in each category.
The progress reached (or not), in these commitments will be taken into consideration at the 40th session of the UNHCR this Wednesday (20).
“The Council will consider the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Sri Lanka, and discuss the implementation of Resolution 30/1” the report states.
In September 2015, the government made nine commitments on transitional justice and reconciliation in Resolution 30/1.
The office of Reparations that comes under this segment has attracted concerns regarding the independence of the Office for Reparations, on the basis that the procedures stipulated for approving reparations policies and for disbursing funds, introduce avenues for political interference.
The report further identifies that the members for this office are yet to be appointed although legislation was enacted about five months ago.
The Cabinet paper put forward by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (to establish a commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence) has so far not been given approval after President Maithripala Sirisena reportedly requested more time to make observations on the proposals.
At the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 25th 2018, President Sirisena stated that Sri Lankans ‘do not require foreign interference or threats’, ostensibly in response to the commitment to include foreign participation in the judicial mechanism.
According to the Verite Research study, some progress is seen in the commitments given under the 15 commitments on Rights and Rule of Law. Parliament enacted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance which criminalises enforced disappearance and introduces certain new procedural safeguards concerning persons taken into custody. By April 30, 2018, the Registrar General’s Department had received 827 applications and issued 616 certificates of absence.
The report also identifies the weakening of effective protection for victims and witnesses vulnerable to police intimidation, by the National Authority for The Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses.
The findings of the report on victims and witness protection states “There have been reports of the Authority failing to ensure adequate protection to victims and witnesses, including journalist Kasun Pussawela who received threats from a key suspect in an ongoing case relating to the Welikada prison riots – which Pussawela had reported on. As at December 31, 2017, the Authority, as well as the special police division received 77 complaints from the public. In August 2018, the Government reported that Police investigations into 16 complaints had been concluded.”
The delay in the proposed counter terrorism bill that is placed before parliament for a vote after further deliberations too has had limited progress achieved, the study by Verite Research found.
The report also states that there has been limited progress in investigating attacks against journalists, religious minorities, members of civil society and places of worship. Some of these cases have been subject to interference from the security and political establishment, thus impeding the progress of the investigations.
In November 2018, journalists were attacked at the Fort Magistrate’s Court premises, where they were covering a case in which Chief of Defence Staff Ravindra Wijegunaratne was named as ‘suspect 25’ – the case relates to the abduction of eleven persons by the Navy in 2010. In February 2019, journalist Nadarajah Kugarajah was attacked by policemen in Kokuvil, Jaffna.
“For instance, the military has withheld key evidence relating to the 2009 murder of journalist Lasantha Wickremetunge and the 2010 disappearance of cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda.
There is currently no up-to-date information on investigations into violence against Muslims in Aluthgama (2014) and Gintota (2017). In February and March 2018, there were fresh outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence in the Ampara and Kandy districts. In response, the government declared a state of emergency under the Public Security Ordinance (PSO). The government has not indicated plans to review the PSO.
There have also been incidents of harassment and violence against journalists over the past year.” The report states that the Government had made some progress in releasing military-held land to civilians under the directive issued by President Sirisena in October 2018, by ordering the release of all civilian land in the North and East by the end of 2018. According to the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM), 46,320 acres were released between 2015-2018 in the Northern and Eastern Province.
This consists of 40,488 acres of state land, and 5,831 acres of private land. As at December 31st 2018, 30,187 acres were still occupied by the military.