Sri Lanka Campaign has introduced a list of tests to be used as a yardstick in order to judge whether Sri Lanka is really on the road to recovery or whether it is nothing more than a superficial change.
The group that campaigns for a just and lasting peace in Sri Lanka, has noted the ‘tests’ are demands that have been voiced by victims and civil society activists in Sri Lanka. SLC has pointed out that although the majority of the issues listed were not included in the election manifestos of either of the main Presidential election candidates, the ‘change’ that has been promised by the new President and the Prime Minister can be judged by observing the progress on these issues:
Following are the topics that have been listed by SLC to be used as a yardstick to review the progress of changing Sri Lanka:-
– The release of political prisoners
Noting the concern expressed by a large number of society activists concerning the increased incidents of arbitrary arrests and detentions, the SLC notes that any progressive developments on the issue of the political prisoners can be measured by noting the progress on these questions:
- · Has Jeyakumary Balendaran, a mother of one of the disappeared against whom no evidence has been produced, been released after over 300 days in detention?
- · Is the government moving to abolish the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a draconian piece of legislation which allows people to be imprisoned without trial for up to 18 months?
- · Has it withdrawn regulations promulgated under the PTA which keep in place the effects of the lapsed Emergency Regulations?
- · Has the government released all prisoners held under the PTA, or otherwise brought them into open court for trial on specific charges?
- · Is Boosa Detention Centre, Sri Lanka’s most notorious torture site, still open? If it is, are civil society and international inspectors allowed to visit it and are lawyers provided unrestricted access to their clients?
- · Has the government disclosed how many LTTE cadres are being held in secret “rehabilitation camps”?
– A return to a normal way of life in the North and East
SLC has stressed on the importance of returning normalcy to the lives of war affected communities, noting the inability to do so due to heavy militarization carried out under the former regime:
- When a meeting is called in a predominantly Tamil area, do military personnel attend and keep a note of what is said? Do they attempt to break up the meeting?
- Have any abductions or assaults being reported in the Northern or Eastern Province?
- Do former LTTE cadres still receive regular night time visits from the police and army?
- Have the ex-military personnel appointed as Government Agents to districts in the Northern and Eastern Province been replaced by civilian officials proficient in the Tamil language? How many Government workers in Tamil areas speak Tamil?
- How much Tamil and Muslim land does the Sri Lankan army, and paramilitary groups such as the EPDP and TMVP, continue to illegally occupy? Do they continue to use it commercially? Is there a plan for return of the land and provide compensation?
- How many Tamil families remain internally displaced and in temporary accommodation? How much effort is the Government putting into resettlement, into allowing Tamil families to return to their own lands, and into restoring fishing rights?
- Is there a plan to reduce troop numbers in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province and to move towards demilitarising Sri Lanka’s north and east?
- Have checkpoints in the Northern Province preventing free movement to travellers, such as in Omanthai, been removed? And can foreigners travel to Sri Lanka’s Northern Province without having to get permission from the Ministry of Defence? (NB the second half of this has already happened)
- Has the Government implemented a “Certificate of Absence” scheme, in lieu of a death certificate, for those who have been missing for a long time? Is this granted the same degree of legal recognition as a death certificate?
- Has any compensation been given to war affected families and the families of the disappeared?
– Providing a political solution to Tamil grievances
SLC has urged the leadership of both communities to learn from past experiences and approach the issue with a deeper understand and sensitivity towards a peaceful coexistence.
- Has the government presented any concrete plans to promote peace and friendship between Sri Lanka’s different communities, for instance through implementing the recommendations in the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report on reconciliation (9.167-9.285) and through expanding the National Plan of Action to include all the LLRC recommendations?
- Have there been more anti-Muslim rhetoric and acts of violence from the Buddhist extremist Bodu Bala Sena (BBS)? If so, how has the government responded?
- Do the sanctions on 16 Tamil Diaspora organisations and 424 individuals remain in place?
– Ending the culture of impunity
Noting that Sri Lanka will never have reconciliation or lasting peace until and unless we know whats happened to the disappeared individuals, the SLC has listed out the following questions to be used in observing any progress with concern to the above topic in Sri Lanka under the new regime.
- Is there now an investigation into the hitherto uninvestigated deaths and disappearances of 36 journalists and media workers during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term in office?
- What is the status of the investigation of the Matale mass grave, Lalith Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganandan’s disappearance, and the Trinco 5 and Muttur 17 killings?
- Has the report of the “Presidential Commission of Inquiry into 16 serious violations” been released to the public?
- Is there a plan to investigate the 19,471 cases of disappearances registered before the Presidential Commission on missing persons in a timely manner?
- What is the new Government’s attitude to the United Nations’ procedures on human rights? Are they continuing to disrespect the office of the High Commission for Human Rights and block investigations? Have any of the eight UN Special Procedures mandate holders with outstanding requests to visit been allowed to do so?
“The main barrier to a lasting peace is the culture of impunity, which a lengthy serious of domestic processes has failed to break,” the group has stated. Furthermore, they have noted that they will be duly reporting back on the status of these tests and the progress on each of the issues.