The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) while welcoming the the bill issued on August 11 on victim and witness protection has urged the government to engage all stakeholders including affected communities and civil society in the law making process in order to provide for a stronger process in the search for truth and justice.
In a statement released last night on the bill titled ‘Assistance to and protection of victims of crime and witnesses’, while acknowledging the bill in its present form is an improvement on the previous draft has called upon the government to consider concerns expressed over the issues addressed in the bill both at policy ad practical level.
The organisation has stressed on the need for further reform in the bill if human rights protection and fundamental freedoms are to be genuinely addressed and realized by the government.
It has commended the bill encompassing fundamental principles including the recognition of the rights of the victims to be treated with equality, fairness and dignity and the provision of duties of public officers including members of armed forces, police and judiciary to recognize, protect and promote the rights and entitlements of the victims and witnesses.
The CPA has gone on to praise the definition of human rights used in the Bill since it would assist in adhering to international standards and not the narrow interpretation that might have undermined the rights of the victims and witnesses.
Furthermore, several other issues arising from the Bill that requires further attention have also been noted in the media release issued by the CPA as well as suggestions to improve on the currently included sections, to which includes:
– The establishment of an authority that will have a board of management comprising of ex-officio members of the Ministry of Justice, Police, Women’s Affairs, Children, members of the Human Rights Commission, nominee of the Attorney General, nominee of IGP and five members appointed by the Executive from academic/professional experience in the field of criminology, criminal justice system, human rights or medicine.
The CPA has recommended that the authority includes technical competences necessary for its work including independent actors and practitioners with expertise in mental health and social protection
– Concerns over whether the authority will be able to fully implement what is required of it in the present political context despite it being provided with a range of powers including the review of policies, legislation, practices and procedures, advise on possible reforms, promotion of codes of conduct and best practices, development of a scheme of assistance and protection for victims and witnesses and the issuing of guidelines
The CPA has pointed out that against the backdrop of increasing allegations of police brutality and corruption and inaction in both the Attorney General’s Department and the Police to act on serious human rights violations, considerable concern remains as to why whether the authority can be independent and withstand possible interference/ influence by state and non-state entities.
“Moreover, there is the issue of whether there are sufficient safeguards in place to prevent re-victimization within the process,” the statement notes.
Furthermore, it has welcomed the inclusion on the section on compensation that provides that a High Court and Magistrates Court may upon convicting a person, in addition to any penal sanction order, convict the person to pay compensation to the victim and the witness. But it highlights on the fact that the government has to expand on this section by introducing a comprehensive policy for compensation for serious violations of human rights that is transparent and equitable.
Commenting on the references in the Bill on the facilitation of providing testimonies through audio visual linkages within Sri Lanka, it notes that stating the testimonies will be obtained upon satisfying specific criteria including the presence of a judicial or public officer in the remote location can be problematic. “The presence of such officials may deter victims and witnesses from coming forward due to possible security threats in the event their location is made public,” the CPA notes adding that the the increasing politicisation with the Attorney Generals Department also raises questions over whether such testimony can be obtained or whether a change of location is needed regarding the role the Department can play in the search for truth and justice.
While stating these issues are highlighted in the context of requiring urgent reforms to uphold the rule of law and end the culture of impunity, the Department notes that it is only the first step by the government in meeting its obligations towards its citizens.
“Much more is required in terms of implementation that recognizes and provides for the needs of victims and witnesses,” the CPA notes.