18 September, 2020

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Transitional Justice & Where Sri Lanka Stands

By Pabodha Hettige

Pabodha Hettige

Sri Lanka is at a crucial juncture, where reconciliation should have to be one of the prime objectives in the administrative bucket list. After the lapse of more than a decade of ending the civil war, have we achieved that feat? The transitional justice and other rights concerns seem to be limited to mere words. 

To further endorse it Sri Lanka expressed its desire to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) resolution 30/1 earlier this year, which intends to promote reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in post war Sri Lanka. 

The Last Five Years

The resolution was co-sponsored by the coalition government (2015), led by the former president Maithripala Sirisena. The transitional justice agenda included a truth commission and an accountability mechanism to address wartime rights abuses. It was an appreciable stride in the international engagement.

However, did the former government genuinely committed to achieve the proposed objectives is highly disputed. In January 2016, then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed a Consultation Task Force on reconciliation, whose findings and the recommendations were never endorsed by the government. Similarly, what happened to the Office of Missing Persons is also ambiguous. 

One reason that could be attributed to the reluctance of the coalition government’s abiding was that President Sirisena was adamant in his footing that the military personnel, whom he referred to as war heroes should be protected of all the allegations at all costs. While hailing the real war heroes, it was only right to bring the perpetrators to book instead of safeguarding them. Transitional justice system that was supposed to be victim centered may have been perpetrator centered under the previous government. 

Another huge disappointment was not repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which enables and facilitates indefinite detention without charge, torture and other abuses. New counter terrorism laws were never successfully introduced and this seriously flawed the proposed transitional justice. Also, the government’s failure to coordinate with the civil society actors to create a cross ethnic dialog, to educate and create awareness through advocacy and informal diplomacy and to address economic and social issues that burdened the ethnic minority was a major drawback in achieving the desired objectives. However, one positive attribute during the former government was that the civil society actors were strengthened unlike being weakened under the Rajapaksa political patronage. 

Nevertheless, much could not be expected of a government that had prior awareness of the Easter attacks, yet opted to do nothing putting an entire nation at risk, which also failed to deal with the aftermath the way an accountable government does.

The Current Situation

Sri Lanka is back into enjoying a fresh Rajapaksa era and the brothers (Mahinda and Gotabaya) are credited for ending the 30 odd years of civil war. But, at the same time they are accused of brutal human rights violations, extra judicial killings and abductions during the period of 2005 to 2015, where nobody was held accountable for the alleged human rights violations. It is a subject of concerns as to how the victimized ethnic minority of Sri Lanka views this new era. Do they still have a hope for reconciliation or are they plagued by a new found fear, is only known by them.

Upon expressing the desire to withdraw from the UNHRC resolutions, it seems President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had a different strategy to address the long overdue reconciliation. His elucidation for non cooperation was to pursue a national plan to achieve sustainable peace through a domestically designed mechanism. Whether such mechanism has been drawn up or in the process of being drawn up is something the general public is still unaware of.

However, the motive behind the desire to withdraw seems to have been in their best interest rather than the country’s best interest. The bogus nationalistic ideology and patriotism is only a drama acted before the public only to score popular votes and to save themselves and their allies from the impending adversities.

Shavendra Silva and Reconciliation

Appointment of Shavendra Silva as the Commander in chief of the armed forces and subsequently as the Lieutenant General is a sharply criticized move by the international community as well as certain factions of the Sri Lankan general public, as it is being viewed as a move highly undermining the reconciliation efforts.

Although denied by him, Silva and his troops are accused for gross violation of human rights and humanitarian laws including shelling a hospital, no fire zones and hindering humanitarian supplies. According to the United Nations an estimated 45,000 Tamil civilians have been killed during the last months of the war.

Silva and his immediate family was imposed travel restrictions to the US over the alleged violations of human rights, only after which, the desire of the government to opt out from the UNHCR resolution sprang up.

The move undoubtedly has undermined Sri Lankan reputation in the international community and our commitment towards transitional justice. 

The fruit of the reconciliation efforts cannot be reaped overnight and instead of facilitating it and creating an environment conducive to peace and trust building, the government has created a deep trench by such appointment. 

Continuing threats

The fear and intimidating campaign towards activists have continued under the Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime as expected. It has included intimidation, assault, threatening and arbitrary arrests. These actions have been a fine portrayal of hostilities towards the ethnic and religious minority of Sri Lanka. 

Most recently, in April, Hejaaz Hizbullah, a lawyer who has represented victims of human rights violations, was apprehended under the PTA, where he was held in custody without charges and without being produced before a magistrate for an extended period. He was also accused of his alleged involvement in terrorism.

Lawyer, Swastika Arulingam, being arrested and briefly detained in June, Lawyer Achala Senevirathne, representing the families of victims of forced disappearance receiving death threats and journalist Dharisha Bastians having to leave the country upon imminent fear are few of the many instances taken place under the oppression extended under President Rajapaksa.

If reconciliation to be achieved should an open dialogue not be taken place? If the accused are in fact not liable for what they are accused of, why cannot the government accept the challenge, create a discourse to accommodate constructive criticism, carry out unbiased investigations, ensure transparency and clear its name? The continued oppression and deviation from the attempts to achieve transitional justice would only tarnish Sri Lanka further in the face of the international community.

Is it only the government’s responsibility?

It would not be fair if the failure for reconciliation is only attributed towards the administrative mechanism. As the general public we also carry an equal share of responsibility to take part in achieving justice via reformed ideological values. Rather than entertaining a divided nationalistic approach it would assure a step towards success if ‘one country one nation’ concept can be embraced holistically and by recognizing and upholding equal rights to all. 

In the road to justice the religious leaders could play a key role as those who hold significant civil powers. Building peace in the inner circles of respective religions can be a step to start with.  It is their responsibility to bridge the community gap and build lasting relationships and understanding between different ethnicities rather than aligning with political parties and creating tensions in the society. The topic of reconciliation should be brought into an open stage, where they could be expressive about the stance they embrace on the matter. This will enable the fostering of solidarity while indirectly putting pressure on those who are in power. 

After the lapse of more than a decade are we satisfied about reconciliation? Have we achieved collective justice? Clearly not. The backlog of cases still remains untouched while fresh ones seem to be piling up. 

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Latest comments

  • 36
    33

    Where Sri Lanka Stands…
    .
    Your “Transitional Justice” ended on May 18, 2009 effectively.
    .
    Tamil seperatists must take “reconciliation” seriously and should learn to respect the fact that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country.
    .
    The rejection of RW/UNP by 98% of the people of this country clearly shows what we think of so called UNHCR resolution 30/1.
    .
    And….
    For your information…..
    I stopped reading after few paragraphs and just skimmed over.
    This is just rubbish targeting Sinhala Buddhist dominancy.
    If you don’t like the way we work…..
    You can always pack your bags and leave.

    • 27
      22

      The truth is tha SRILANKEN AVERAGE mindset would not care much about

      1) Law and order

      2) Justice
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPDbyqpLQ5U

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsTfTdeG_8k

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPO8Lcg–gg

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B95CdeAmA4g

      3)Respect for unbiased crime investigaions

      4) Criminality – they are taught to believe, against minorities
      5) Cyber Criminality
      6)Media Ethics and Morals
      7) Protection of Archaelogical Heritages – such Kurunagala Raja sabaywa
      8) Respect and Dignity of life
      9) Buddhagama (known by them as SINHALA BUDDHISM)
      – truth as it is, they the so called buddhist monks are even more violent than their lay people
      10) Conservation of flora and fauna in this country
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7kcA6c7tME
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xgzpsa7UdoQ

      All these were proved well by the RECENT ELECTION RESULTS. So long crime friendly representives are there, this nation would never see it right. Appalling levels of the society – and the composition of the parliament would tell you about the MIRROR IMAGE of the PEOPLE S THINKING ( the majority).

      • 11
        26

        Mr. leela ge …..,
        .
        Don’t use my comments to promote your idiotic YouTube videos.
        .

    • 22
      22

      Srilanken JUSTICE RELATED issues under the current barbaric leadership you will learn from the link below.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVw4WsrsZOo
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVw4WsrsZOo
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVw4WsrsZOo

    • 20
      4

      No amount of laws can prevent terrorism- including PTA. Terrorism is neither God sent nor did it originate from hell. It originates from the activities/ of the government. As long as they treat all alike, whether they are rich or poor-Sinhalese or Tamils- Muslims or Malays, Men or Women the chances of Terrorism raising its head will be limited.
      Even Gandhi and Mandela were referred to as passive terrorists. The weaker section of the society resorts to terrorism to meet the challenge of terrorism of those who consider themselves the ruling class acquired by fortuitous circumstances.

    • 21
      8

      S. C. Pasqual,What a mesmerizing message you have!
      .
      Look at:
      Tamil… should learn to respect the fact that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country’.
      My question is how does pure imagination of a Sinhala Buddhist become a ‘fact’.
      .
      You yourself admit that there is Sinhala Buddhist dominance in the country. What more is needed from me!

      • 19
        9

        Nathan,
        .
        please dont take SCP the bastard serious. He is an ultra backlicker of Rajapakshe rascals.
        :
        We are ashamed to be sinhalese when looking at the manner these lowlives behave today.

      • 15
        0

        PASQUAL’S imagination usually runs riot with verbal terrorism, which could create physical terrorism among the Sinhalese.. Take care

    • 17
      2

      I completely agree, this country is for war criminals and robbers the Rajspakse Family. Even their back luckers and pimps also one day will pack their bags.
      Anyway all educated young generation has packed the bags irrespective of the race and religion.

  • 17
    4

    You said it all. Facts are there for every one to see. Lankan governments are never genuine and they are their for their own self interest. They just fake, come up with all sort of excuses to buy time ,hoping that crimes committed in past ,will some how disappear by it self. In the mean time the new government will continue to make more , just for their survival. Idea is to disagree with world bodies and come with their own reconciliation and force that into acceptance. If violence is not the answer for minorities , these methods by the government too will not succeed. Previous governments and many such dictators world over tried, but none succeeded.

  • 4
    17

    Every now and then someone will write an essay like this. Good.
    .
    The fact of the matter is it was a thirty year long war . YES, A THIRTY YEAR LONG WAR.
    A mechanism to hold only one side accountable WILL NOT WORK. It will not achieve any desired result but only will lead to the very opposite of these do gooders intend to realise. It is too complex a process and in the end:
    .
    IT WILL LEAD TO IRREPARABLE ENMITY.
    .
    Stop this attempt to brainwash the new generation of Tamils that their war time political masters were innocent little babies. They must learn the fact that the methodology these political masters adopted to realise their Vadukkodai ambition was naked terrorism – kiling. and maiming of INNOCENT UNARMED CIVILIANS. They led the most ruthless terrorist organisation the world has ever seen. They utilised every resource they could lay their hands on INCLUDING THEIR OWN CHILDREN.
    .
    That only Tamils are entitled to ‘Transsional Justice’ is a counter productive concept.
    .
    LET US FORGIVE ALL INVOLVED AND MOVE ON.
    .I urge the government to release all those LTTE suspects in prolonged detention without trial forthwith and close the book.
    .
    Now why I am so strongly opposed to these ‘accountability ‘ mechanisms?
    Because it will bury the TRUTH for ever.

    • 16
      3

      soma, Don’t bury the truth yourself!
      You say, ‘A mechanism to hold only one side accountable WILL NOT WORK’.
      Who said that ONLY ONE SIDE needs to be accountable. Hold BOTH sides accountable. Have both sides investigated.
      .
      Leave complexity to the investigators. They will know which mechanisms to employ.

      • 4
        16

        Nathan
        Go through the main article again.
        Show me one occurrence of the word ‘LTTE’ or ‘Prabhakaran’
        (Help: go to ‘find on page’ and type LTTE. No show? Type ‘Prabhakaran’)

        Soma

        • 16
          2

          Soma,
          The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) resolution 30/1 is mentioned in the article, isn’t it? Doesn’t that resolution call for investigation of both sides. You are trying hard to wiggle out, when cornered.

          • 2
            16

            In that case it would have been sufficient to mention the UNHCR thing. What is all the rest of the rigmarole about?
            Ten years have gone by. Even rearresting of the 12,000+ hard core terrorists released by Rajapaksa has not been accomplished yet in order to start the mechanism on a level playing field.

            Soma

            .

  • 4
    19

    Pabhoda Hettige,
    There was no ‘WAR’. Sri Lanka Armed Forces did not fight with Tamils in Tamil Nadu.
    There was no ‘CIVIL WAR’ in Sri Lanka. Sinhala civilians did not kill Demala civilians or Demala civilians did not kill Sinhala civilians.
    What Sri Lanka had was a military operation launched by the Government to eradicate a Demala (Ceylon Tamils after 1911) terrorist organization of the descendants of Dravida slaves brought from Hindusthan that slaughtered Native Sinhalayo to grab a part of the country of Sinhalayo and Vedda Eththo to create a separate State using a bogus claim ‘Traditional Homeland’.
    These Demala terrorists started their terrorist campaign by killing 13 soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army.
    If you think ‘RECONCILIATION’ should be in the bucket list, first ‘Para’ Demalu who slaughtered Sinhalayo for three decades should give a ‘PUBLIC APOLOGY’ to Sinhalayo who gave citizenship to these aliens. Do not expect Sinhalayo who are the victims of Tamil terrorism to go to ‘Para’ Demalu with an ‘OLIVE BRANCH’ and tell ‘Wanakkam! We like to have ‘RECONCILIATION’ with you.

    • 14
      2

      You Eagle brain dead Bp@
      should really be sick. Did not they kill innocent Tamil srilankens in 1983 riots in srilanka? I have got enough evidence to prove it.

      Did nt sinhalese kill their own sinhalese in 1989 across the country?
      .
      What about wasim thadjudeen murder, was that not an example to prove the state terror ?
      .
      Not long ago after Easter Sunday disaster didn’t sinhala racists and facists attack innocent muslims? All these will help your doctors to find out whether u are a dementia patient or you are suffering from a syndrome of rarity ?

  • 15
    3

    One of a rare kind of essay!
    Here is a novel Mahabharata being written. Pandava’s lost their kingdom to Duryodhana ill willed friends’ tricks and went to jungle and came to claim their part. In the last stages of negotiations in Hastinapur, Vitura stood up and said “Duryodhana, by your arrogance you are going to destroy this historical holy land and your subjects and your dynasty; so I don’t want to be part in that with you; I will not fight in this war for you, here I break my sacrosanct Bow” and he broke it and walked out of the court. The remaining Ponny, Lemon Puff, Ganapathipillai all bragged their bravery and told to Duryodhana, “King, he (Vitura) is a coward; he is a traitor; he ate your rice and today he talked against you. Let us kill him first”. But the other learned said,” King, these are chaffs, they live for your favors; Vitura is Brahmachari; he lives for the good of the mankind; these wild foxes cannot kill him; if they kill they will be possessed by Jyestha(Mudevi). Then they will become cursed & detrimental for you, not any help; don’t listen to them”. But Duryodhana counted on his team’s earlier victories and refused to listen the good advises.

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