Amnesty International has claimed that most crimes allegedly committed before, during and after Sri Lanka’s armed conflict remain uninvestigated and unpunished. In a written statement submitted to the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council which commences on Tuesday, 13th September 2016, Amnesty International pointed out that threats against human rights defenders and journalists continue to persist even under the current government, while despite rhetoric impunity persists in some cases.
In the written statement Amnesty International said, “Most crimes under international law allegedly committed before, during, and after Sri Lanka’s protracted armed conflict between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended in 2009, remain uninvestigated and unpunished.”
“Despite repeated promises to progress investigations, impunity persists in most cases, including the January 2006 extrajudicial executions of five students in Trincomalee by Sri Lankan security personnel; the shootings of 17 aid workers with Action Contre La Faim; the enforced disappearance of human rights defender Stephen Sunthararaj in 2009 after his abduction by security personnel; the disappearance of cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda in January 2010; and the disappearance of political activists Lalith Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganandan, last seen in Jaffna in December 2011. Families have waited years for truth and justice in these cases,” Amnesty said.
Amnesty noted that threats against human rights defenders and journalists persist even under the current government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
“For example, Amnesty International was disturbed to learn of the beating on 2 June of journalist Freddy Gamage by supporters of a Negombo politician. Gamage, who received head injuries and required hospitalisation, had been threatened over articles he wrote exposing the politician’s alleged corruption and links to organised crime. Gamage told Amnesty International that he was further threatened by one of the men he accused of attacking him when they met in court after he pointed him out in an identification parade. The government must ensure he is protected,” Amnesty said.
Amnesty however noted that there have been positive developments since 2015 when Sri Lanka co-sponsored the Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in the country, including increased openness to engage with Special Procedures.
“However, slow progress in delivering on many aspects of the ambitious agenda coupled with lack of transparency has led some victims and human rights defenders to express frustration,” the statement said.
Amnesty also said that flaws in relation to public consultation must be addressed without delay. “Public consultations, the bedrock on which Sri Lanka’s transitional justice process must be built, are underway. However, implementation has been undermined by lack of government resources, including to publicise the process nationally to all affected communities and provide effective protection mechanisms so that victims and their families can participate in safety and confidence. These flaws must be addressed without delay,” the statement said.
With regard to the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP), Amnesty said that to be effective, the OMP must provide families with the truth about what happened to their loved ones.” Many fear their right to truth might be compromised because Sri Lanka’s newly enacted Right to Information Act would not apply to confidential information received by the Office. The OMP must not agree to confidentiality regarding any information that would deny families the truth about the whereabouts or fate of their loved ones or obstruct their access to justice,” the written statement said.
Amnesty also said that families of the disappeared, activists and other Sri Lankans say the Government has not adequately explained its reform agenda nor acted on demands for an interim relief policy. “Sri Lankan needs to show progress on all four pillars of transitional justice, but there are several steps the Sri Lankan government should take now to sustain public faith in the process,” the statement said.