Sri Lanka: Call for accountability from women affected by war

We, as women impacted by war and ongoing post-war violence in Sri Lanka and working on issues of truth and justice, call upon the Government of President Maithripala Sirisena to take immediate steps to address past violations and to initiate credible and independent investigations that lead to indictments and prosecutions of alleged perpetrators. We make this call as women who have been directly impacted by the violence and witnessed numerous domestic initiatives including commissions of inquiry and other investigations that have not lead to holding perpetrators accountable.

In the context of decades of failed domestic processes, we reiterate the importance of the investigation being carried out under the auspices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) established by resolution A/HRC/25/1 titled “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka” which we believe is essential in the search for truth and justice in Sri Lanka. We take this opportunity to urge that the findings of the investigation be discussed at the forthcoming 28th Session of the UNHRC leading to a resolution providing a mandate for the High Commissioner to monitor the human rights situation as well as progress on how the findings and recommendations of the OISL inquiry are being addressed.

This appeal is made at a time when the Sirisena Government has promised investigations via credible domestic processes. There was also recognition of the past and the need for healing in its Declaration of Peace made at the 67th Independence Day celebration held on 4th February 2015. We sincerely hope this is a shift in policy in terms of recognizing the past and ending the silence and we take this opportunity to call on the Government to take a strong position in addressing truth and justice in Sri Lanka. While several officials of the new government have made statements regarding domestic accountability processes, there is no information publicly available as to what initiatives and modalities will be used to investigate and hold perpetrators to account. It is also uncertain as to the status of ongoing investigations including the Commission of Inquiry looking into missing persons appointed in August 2013. With its mandate expiries in February 2015, we fear that the over 20,000 complaints received so far will be unaddressed and no information will be publicly known regarding the status of cases. Although the commission has been critiqued for structural and practical flaws, thousands of families searching for missing loved ones went before it in search for answers and for justice. The fact that it may come to a sudden halt is of serious concern to us and makes a mockery of the families who have engaged in the hope for answers.

We also write this appeal at a time when reports suggest that there may be a deferral of the OISL report, with reports even suggesting that Sri Lanka maybe dropped from the agenda of the UNHRC. These are extremely disturbing when the situation in Sri Lanka is still uncertain including whether domestic processes will be credible and can deliver in terms of truth and justice. We say this having witnessed countless commissions and committees reportedly inquiring and investigating but a cloud of secrecy remains as to whether perpetrators were ever held to account. Victims, survivors and affected communities took significant risks by submitting evidence to the OISL in the hope of justice and accountability, a small glimmer of hope when all else had failed in Sri Lanka. We fear that a delay now in terms of the OISL is a denial of justice and a sign to perpetrators that impunity is acceptable.

The fact that thousands of women have gone before national commissions, committees and courts and appealed to international actors, including the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID), is indicative of the undeniable need to know what happened to loved ones and for justice. Despite numerous promises, no independent investigation into serious human rights violations in recent years has resulted in a successful prosecution and conviction of alleged perpetrators in Sri Lanka, a sign of the culture of impunity pervasive in post war Sri Lanka. We therefore call on the international community to engage and support Sri Lanka strive for truth and justice. A first step in this is to discuss the findings of the OISL findings in March 2015 and for UNHRC to provide a mandate for continuous monitoring of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka via the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Another important step that can be sequenced is to support domestic credible processes. We believe these are both fundamental in the search for truth, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. We therefore make the following demands from the Government of Sri Lanka and the international community.

 To the Government of Sri Lanka

- Constructively engage with the UNHRC and the OISL in terms of the present investigation and for a debate at the forthcoming UNHRC Session.
- Initiate a credible domestic process that includes components of truth telling and trials. In light of the short comings of the present framework, initiate immediate legal and policy reform to introduce processes that are independent and impartial and have the necessary resources and expertise to carry out investigations and inquiries.
- Introduce a victim and witness protection legislation and mechanism.
- Facilitate the pending visits of UN Special Procedures including the UNWGEID.
- Initiate a comprehensive reparations program that addresses the grievances of affected communities

 To the International Community

- Table the OISL report and discuss Sri Lanka at the 28th Session of the UNHRC.
- Pass a resolution at the 28th Session of the UNHRC which provides the High Commissioner the mandate to monitor progress of domestic initiatives in Sri Lanka and to annually report to the UNHRC.
- The OHCHR should provide technical and other support to the Government of Sri Lanka in terms of moving forward with credible domestic processes.