17 January, 2022


Transitional Justice Process Needs To Become More Transparent 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The June session of the UN Human Rights Council is expected to be an important test for the government. The resolution that it co-sponsored in October 2015 stated that the UN High Commissioner would submit an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its thirty-second session (June 2016) and a comprehensive report followed by discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its thirty-fourth session (March 2017). In recent weeks there have been several announcements by the government to highlight the progress that it has made in implementing the UNHRC resolution.

The most important of these governmental actions is the unveiling of the draft legislation on the Office of Missing Persons. This was one of the four transitional justice mechanisms that Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera promised to establish in the run up to the co-sponsored resolution of October 2015. Other actions taken by the government in the past month include the setting up of a witness protection unit under the Ministry of Justice, the decision to re-issue Sri Lankan passports to those who had sought political asylum abroad if they so desired, and the release of the report of the Public Representations Committee on constitutional reforms.

This flurry of announcements shows that the government has not been as inactive as it seemed with regard to addressing the controversial issues of transitional justice. An international watchdog group the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice has said that “Of the 25 specific commitments pledged by the government at the Human Rights Council last year, 16 can be classified as ‘not on track’ or as giving cause for concern, compared to only 3 which can be described as ‘on track’. For the 6 remaining commitments it remains too soon to say.” They have further stated that “there are worrying signals that it is not doing enough to prepare the ground some of the toughest, yet arguably most important, steps – such as de-militarizing the North, investigating disappearances and prosecuting war crimes.”women sri lanka colombotelegraph

However, it appears that the government has been secretly baking a pudding, though the world at large is not aware of what the ingredients are. The draft legislation on the Office of Missing Persons reflects a considerable amount of thought and research and can be considered as superior to any previous Sri Lankan legislation on the issue. Even those international human rights watchdog groups like Human Rights Watch have been critical of it on the grounds of process rather than substance. They have pointed out that there has been insufficient public discussion about the legislation and that the victims who are to be the beneficiaries should have been consulted. One of the key problems with regard to the government’s implementation of the UNHRC resolution is that it is being done without transparency. The sudden emergence of the legislation of the Office of Missing Persons was, however, an indication that the government had been doing its homework but without letting the world-at-large know about it.

Deliberate Strategy

It is likely that a similar behind-the-scenes approach is taking place with regard to the three other mechanisms that the government promised in regard to the UNHRC resolution on which there will be a report back later this month in Geneva. These would be Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Special Court on accountability and the Office of Reparations. There were news items in the media that government delegations had been visiting countries such as South Africa to study their post-conflict healing and reconciliation processes which is one indication that work is being done on these as well. South Africa, for instance, is the home to the model Truth and Reconciliation Commission that has inspired other countries seeking to strengthen their post-war reconciliation processes.

The government appears to be following a deliberate strategy of non-transparency in dealing with issues of transitional justice at this time. It is aware that this is an issue on which there could be mass mobilization by the opposition that could threaten its stability. The UNHRC came to public prominence in Sri Lanka due to its efforts that began immediately after the end of the war in 2009 to bring the previous government to book on charges of war crimes. This not only provoked furious resistance by the government of the day, but also prejudiced the minds of most Sri Lankans who rejoiced that the war had come to an end. The then government was able to convince most Sri Lankans that the international effort to bring it to book for accountability was actually to punish it for winning the war.

Governmental resistance to the successive resolutions of the UNHRC only ended in 2015 with the coming to power of the new government. Initially, when the new government co-sponsored the October 2015 UNHRC resolution there were protests in Sri Lanka led by members of the opposition who had once led the former government. They described the UNHRC resolution as being driven by the desire of LTTE supporters and sections of the international community for revenge and claimed it was to send the Sri Lankan war heroes to the electric chair, to which former president Mahinda Rajapaksa “volunteered” to go himself to save the war heroes. There was no truth in the claim of the electric chair as the death penalty is not provided for by the International Criminal Court. But this generated agitation within the general population who saw the UNHRC resolution as being primarily about war crimes trials for the soldiers who had fought in the war.

Politically Viable 

Nine months later in June 2016 as the government prepares to make its submissions before the UNHRC in Geneva the sense of agitation amongst the general public had diminished significantly. The government’s non-transparent approach has meant that despite the passage of time little is known about what the government is doing or plans to do with regard to the transitional justice process. This has deprived the opposition with the ammunition with which to attack the government and has limited their ability to mobilize the general population on the basis of narrow nationalism. The government’s strategic approach has given it more time to stabilize itself in dealing with the challenge of the opposition. In the meantime the government is continuing to find new evidence to build up its legal cases against members of the former government who are strongmen in the opposition on corruption and criminal charges.

Indications from the community level are that the general population is no longer as suspicious or doubtful about the government’s ability to deal with the issues of transitional justice as they were six months ago. Discussions and seminars at the community level in diverse areas such as Ratnapura, Kurunegala and Matara in the predominantly Sinhalese parts of the country indicate a lack of interest in the UNHRC resolution as compared to six months ago when the opposition campaign against it was going strong. On the other hand, interest continues to be high in the former war-zones of the North and East as discussions I took part in Jaffna, Batticaloa and Ampara in the past fortnight have revealed.

Ironically the downside of the government’s non-transparent approach to the transitional justice process, despite its motivation of ensuring its political viability, is that it has created doubts amongst sections of the international community, as evidenced in the statements issued by Human Rights Watch and the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice. It is important that the government should address the concerns of the international community that has been strongly supportive of it after the change of government in January 2015. Sections of them feel that they are being left out and do not know what the government is planning to do.

International goodwill is important not least because significant economic benefits can flow from it. Getting back the GSP Plus tariff concessions from the EU will be critically important for the growth of Sri Lankan exports and for the growth of the Sri Lankan economy. If even a single EU country decides to veto it, the GSP Plus benefits that can come to Sri Lanka may be delayed. Also, the transitional justice process cannot be a non-transparent one in the longer term, for issues of truth and truth commissions are necessarily public ones that the general population will have to be part of. The secret ingredients notwithstanding, the proof the pudding will be in the eating.

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Latest comments

  • 10

    The regime wishes to continue to full term without blame of bypassing the promise it made in/by the UNHRC resolution with the ‘heroes’ image of its armed forces intact and to stage a ‘show trial’ – if at all even this materialises sometime in the future.

    What will be, will be.

    • 2

      JP: There is no point in doing reconciliation secretly and behind the back of the Sinhala people, who need to be EDUCATED about war crimes if there is to be SUSTAINABLE Peace in Sri Lanka.

      The fact is that the Sinhala masses need to be EDUCATED about the criminality of their political leaders and some in the armed forces to ensure NON RECURRENCE of war crimes and corruption.

      Also, Civil society organizations has filed to raise the fact that there needs to be Tamils in the Foreign Ministry and all other Ministries at NATIONAL level where they are grossly underrepresented and Tamil persepective absent.

      Also, Tamil professionals are grossly underrepresented in all the so called reconciliation mechanisms and in all government Ministries in the center. In many countries there are quotas for hiring underrepresented minorities who have suffered historical discrimination and have been marginalized. Sinahala Population which have been fed anti-colonialism Buddhist nationalism still think that Tamil dominate govt. institutions as they did in colonial times, But this is not the case. Today because of discrimination against TAMIL PROFESSIONALS in all state institutions Tamils are under-represented and Muslims have been hired because they speack. This must change and there must be a policy of speedy, open and transparent advertisment and recuriting of qualified tamils..

      • 3

        “”Also, Civil society organizations has filed to raise the fact that there needs to be Tamils in the Foreign Ministry and all other Ministries at NATIONAL level where they are grossly underrepresented and Tamil persepective absent.””

        do you want the sinhala muslim wrath like Bad_U_Din standardization??

        ratio sinhala, muslim, tamil, 8:1:1.

        you villagers don’t want to know how to live like free people on merit?
        It gives the best of a nation. but the problem is vote like poodles.

      • 0

        Tamils were the favoured ethnic group by colonial rulers and were the poodle of the colonial British, who suppressed and persecuted Sinhalese.

        • 3


          “the poodle of the colonial British, who suppressed and persecuted Sinhalese. “”

          whats it? sri kotha? siri biri??

          Ceylon was governed from Madras Presidency British Raj mounted police.
          Colombo was like a branch office- province- there are invoices still at Madras presidency of rule from VOC period- 99% intact (no fires because they are cultured)

          So the sinhalese were climbing coconut trees, tapping rubber, while the tamils were plucking tea leaf.

          Aren’t you still a bit of that monkey culture?
          you have no industry but have a Chinese made hand grenade?

          Sloth, sinhala ulu/olu,

          Stick to the trees than discuss culture.

  • 4

    I want to comment on the topic of the article and let the others d it for the content. It is excellent you choose the topic and want to talk about it. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka the small and narrow minded English speaking crowd in colombo who are in power seem to think reconciliation and justice related to the armed conflict is some thing you should limit to those who speak and think in english only.

    They seem also not willing to talk about it let alone spark a public discussion over the issues persisting. Therefore, an article like this is great to see for the sake of such a public agenda. How ever, It should be facilitated in Sinhala and Tamil languages as a priority. Hopefully, Ranils UNP understand this soon.

    • 0

      [Edited out]

    • 4

      “e small and narrow minded English speaking crowd in colombo “

      inferiority complex before a non issue.
      villagers will be villagers- communist to the core;
      that is the world by majority voter strength.(bath guli and kassipu vote)

      “”Transitional Justice Process Needs To Become More Transparent””

      Samantha Power said no,we just move ahead.
      So (Transitional Justice) sounds like high class phony, porno.

  • 3

    Bats Ranil has realized that all that hand shaking without gloves and all did not materialise in any handouts. Now he had to tax the Dalits to pay the bills and go on all fours to the Chinese to reverse all the penalties and damages on theatrics over Chinese projects. While Jehan was busy feeling the pulse of the Dalits Bata Ranil has already told the Chief Honchos from the Services that all guys with the funny wigs for the Justice Drama will be selected from the Dalits no Colonial Masters. Well Jehan has to keep his charade because next he will hear is that Mangy boy is booted from his headless touring ministry.

  • 1

    Thank you for the insightful and optimistic article!

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