United Nations special rapporteur Pablo de Greiff has sounded off warning bells about the high degree of polarization, while also questioning the government’s willingness to abide by the commitments undertaken at an international platform.
In a special statement at the conclusion of his second advisory visit to Sri Lanka from January 26 to February 1, Greiff said that even though a task force has been established in order to carry out the national consultations on transitional justice, the background in which the task force has been established is ‘far from ideal.’
“The task force is starting its deliberations, however, against a background that is far from ideal; statements by the President of Sri Lanka, the Prime Minister, as well as several ministers, seemed to call into question the willingness to abide by commitments undertaken by Sri Lanka,” he noted in his statement which listed out his observations during his visit to Sri Lanka.
Greiff also emphasized that comments by high level Government officials about the fate of the disappeared also created consternation amongst family members of victims. According to him, the paucity of information made public by the Government about the task force, its mandate, and the role of national consultations within an overall strategy for the adoption and the implementation of a transitional justice policy, creates uncertainty about the determination of the Government and about whether its different members are of one mind concerning this important issue.
“A second feature of the background against which these discussions are taking place is a high degree of political polarization,” he warned.
Pablo de Greiff, was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence in 2012.
“The international community –this mandate included—had insisted on the importance of carrying out national consultations, in the conviction that redressing massive human rights violations is best done with the participation of those whose rights were violated in the first place,” he said.
Greiff noted that consulting victims is crucial for several reasons, as it constitutes in itself a mode of recognition and respect; people, whose rights were violated, often in the most brutal ways, will be listened to respectfully and their views taken seriously as to the most effective ways of redressing those violations. “Consulting victims is also a means of trying to guarantee a close fit between the programmes to be established and the needs and expectations of their beneficiaries; it is a way of eliciting information about topics and issues that may not be apparent; symbolically, it is another way of reaffirming the inclusive nature of society, the reintegration of victims into the community of citizens, and a way to signal to others the currency of the notion of equal rights,” he said.
Greiff said that it was therefore gratifying to see that a task force has been established in order to design and implement a national consultation on issues having to do with truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence, which are matters of legal obligation, and which were the object of commitments voluntarily undertaken by Sri Lanka when it co-sponsored a resolution on this topic at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in September.
He also said that it was gratifying that the government has decided to establish a task force made up entirely of representatives of civil society with a long trajectory in the defense of human rights. “Everyone’s credibility is at stake here. For the sake of the integrity of the exercise, but fundamentally, for the sake of the effectiveness of victims’ redress, and as a consequence, for what it would say about the robustness and the seriousness of the idea of equal rights for all, of a shared sense of citizenship in Sri Lanka, this exercise must be made to work,” he said.
Greiff emphasized that Sri Lanka needs to avail itself of every possible means of demonstrating to all its citizens that the equality of rights is a meaningful notion in the country. “Those who approach questions of truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence as if they were the subject of a zero sum game, a matter of interest to one community alone, do a great disservice to the country. This includes some politicians, members of the media, and even some religious leaders, who speak as if the measures will either target or benefit one group alone,” he added.