Govts, oppositions, religions, media have failed Sri Lanka’s war victims: Amnesty chief

Successive governments, opposition leaders, the religious establishment and the media have failed the victims of Sri Lanka’s there-decade-long war and the people at large, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard said.

“This is a significant year for Sri Lanka, marking 15 years since the end of the three-decade long internal armed conflict that left tens of thousands of people injured, dead, displaced, or forcibly disappeared. But it is not just successive governments that have failed the victims and the people of Sri Lanka. All those in positions of leadership, from elected officials to opposition leaders, the religious establishment and the national media, have failed to hold the line on the fight against impunity,” a statement quoted Callamard as saying at the conclusion of a five-day visit to Sri Lanka.

Legislation such as the Online Safety Act and a proposed nongovernmental organisation (NGO) law are worrying evidence of the dangers currently confronting Sri Lankas’s vibrant civil society, she said.

“We are further concerned about the crackdown on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including through the use of ICCPR Act provisions, to make arbitrary arrests, These are often carried out under multiple accusations without formal charge or evidence and has led to lives being lived in limbo. This must end,”

Callamard said her visit provided insights into various challenges Sri Lanka is confronting 15 years after the end of the war that has “fractured and polarised Sri Lankan society”.

“I am deeply grateful to all those who engaged with us, recounting their pain and grief, sharing their views and concerns, and voicing their hopes, fears and demands for the present and the future. Amnesty International stands ready to support all genuine efforts and commitments to confront long-standing impunity, address the violations and grievances of the past and present, and put an end to discrimination and the repression of fundamental freedoms,” she said.

Callamard thanked President Ranil Wickremesinghe for the opportunity to engage in a “constructive dialogue over the human rights challenges facing Sri Lanka”.

“As the home of our South Asia Regional Office, Sri Lanka is vital to our work and we appreciate the government’s continued support and commitment to our cause,” she said.

Following the meeting with President Wickremesinghe on Thursday May 16, an Amnesty International delegation travelled to Mullaithivu on Friday to meet families whose loved ones were forcibly disappeared during the war. Callamard took part in the commemoration on May 18 at Mullivaikkal marking the 15th anniversary of the end of war and the “suffering endured by the Tamils in the lead up to 18 May, before returning to Colombo to meet representatives of the Malaiyaha Tamil community, human rights defenders, protestors, members of civil society organizations, members of the international community and government representatives.”

She also commented on the upcoming elections.

“The elections slated in the coming months will also have a major impact on the future of Sri Lanka and human rights considerations for years to come. The political leadership of the country must implement trust building measures that will address divisions, encourage inter-ethnic solidarity, and provide avenues for meaningful healing. It is imperative to address past wrongs; and make a conscious effort to create an enabling environment for redress while the government considers the establishment of a new Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“A seemingly lack of political will, along with complacency in delivering justice, prevents reconciliation, feeds grievances, and promotes instability. There should be no room for complacency. We urge the international community to work with the national authorities to secure truth and justice for all victims of the war and of on-going human rights violations and lay the foundations for a freer and fairer Sri Lanka,” she said.