The International Crisis Group has claimed that Sri Lanka is not yet the success story that many in the international community claim it to be.
Citing reasons for the claim, Alan Keenan, the Group’s Sri Lanka Senior Analyst noted that the progress on implementing the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution has been slow and often grudging, and there are growing doubts about the government’s political will and ability to see the complex process through.
“For Sri Lanka to stay on the path toward recovery, it needs sustained international support and engagement,” he said.
Keenan noted that although the government has adopted an ambitious reform agenda to address the many challenges the country faces: keeping a beleaguered economy afloat, strengthening the rule of law, tackling corruption, drafting a new constitution, promoting reconciliation efforts with the Tamil population in the north and east, and establishing a multi-pronged set of transitional justice mechanisms agreed with the Council.
“Unfortunately, the entire program risks collapse unless new energy, focus and resources are brought to bear. A weakening economy and slow going on most other fronts have led to waning support from the key constituencies that brought the government to power – Tamils, Muslims and reform-minded Sinhalese. Belief in the possibility of meaningful progress is fading across the board,” he said.
According to him, efforts of the national unity government – a coalition between President Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) – have been weakened by a variety of factors. “First, the government lacks technical capacity and trained personnel on key issues. Second, there is no unified strategy for advancing reforms – with the SLFP split between Sirisena’s wing and supporters of ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and often at odds with the UNP, particularly on economic policy. Third, the administration has not mounted a coherent public relations campaign to sell its successes and build support for the more politically controversial aspects of its program, including transitional justice,” he said.
Keenan also said that Council members should press the government to begin building the legal, institutional and staffing capacity needed for all the promised transitional justice mechanisms. “The High Commissioner should insist that legislation needed to establish these mechanisms must be on the books by March 2017, in advance of that month’s Human Rights Council session. These measures should include legislation to criminalise war crimes and crimes against humanity, and to establish command responsibility as a mode of criminal liability,” he said.
He also said that the government must take steps to dismiss or discipline obstructionists. “Officials who lobbied to undermine UN efforts to support justice and accountability under the Rajapaksa regime should also be removed from policymaking positions. In order to address long-criticised conflicts of interest in the Attorney General’s department, it is necessary to establish a permanent, independent special prosecutor for serious human rights cases in which state officials are alleged perpetrators,” Keenan said.
According to him there were also credible reports that indicate that witnesses in criminal cases implicating the security forces are facing serious threats. “The government has yet to establish an effective witness protection program or revise its weak witness protection law, in compliance with a clause in last year’s Council resolution promising to do so,” he added.