No Doubt Sri Lanka Is At Crossroads: GTF

“Sri Lanka agreeing to a well-defined, time-bound action plan for simultaneous operation of all transitional justice processes should be the top priority for the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC),” says the Global Tamil Forum (GTF)

“As Sri Lankan issues will be taken up at the UNHRC next week, the GTF would like to highlight the following for the careful considerations of the key countries at the UNHR,” the GTF has said in a statement today.

We publish below the statement in full:

The confidence level among the Tamil community that Sri Lanka will fully implement its commitments under the resolution 30/1 in a faithful and timely manner is presently at its lowest. The outcomes of the local council elections, the recent anti-Muslim violence, and the fact that the present coalition government at its halfway mark is in disarray without significant achievements on Tamil related issues, make most of the Tamil people to wonder whether Sri Lanka, once again, has missed a great opportunity.

Under such pessimistic future outlook, it is vital that the International Community, in particular, the key member countries of the UNHRC, make honest and principled public statements during the sessions which will give hope and confidence to the long-suffering people. The role international community needs to play in dealing with the complex issues of accountability and political resolution is vital, and the key countries should do their best to get Sri Lanka agree to an implementable action program using both public and private diplomacy.

It is noteworthy that Sri Lanka has finally appointed the commissioners for the Office of Missing Persons (OMP). Though proper consultations were not carried out with all stakeholders as expected, some of those appointed appear to be persons of good reputation. We believe the international community must have played a key role in getting this outcome, to which the Tamil community is grateful. Such a move just before the UNHRC session is so typical of Sri Lanka and is often a cause for concern about its sincerity. Even allowing for that, we still welcome this development and hope that the OMP will be able to do its job by establishing regional offices, seeking necessary expert assistance. It is important that UNHRC continues to monitor and ensure the effective functioning of the OMP without further delay.

A key outcome of the UNHRC session ought to be ‘Sri Lanka agreeing to a well-defined, time-bound action plan, where all transitional justice processes are in simultaneous operation with active UNHRC oversight’, without which Sri Lanka meeting its targets prior to the comprehensive review in the last quarter of 2019 is virtually impossible. Our request to the international community, in particular to the key UNHRC countries, is that they consider this as ‘the top priority’ and work towards achieving such an outcome.

Such an action plan, however, needs to be comprehensive. The important confidence-building measures such as land and prisoner release, repeal of Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and demilitarisation need to be part of this. It also should include the key transitional justice processes – successful functioning of the

OMP, establishing a special court with credible international participation, truth-seeking mechanism and reparation procedures – all four of them progressing simultaneously.

There are some concerns within the Tamil community that Sri Lanka might use the recent local council election outcomes and the anti-Muslim violence as reasons to not act in a speedy manner and extract further delaying concessions from the key UNHRC countries (a familiar argument – ‘hardliners are becoming stronger and should not give ammunition to them’). Our contention is that, if anything, these incidents and outcomes are nothing but wake-up calls calling for accelerated progress on accountability and political resolution (thus improving ethnic relations in general), with a key lesson being ‘unsettled ethnic crisis and continuing impunity can drag the country backwards on the slightest provocations and will never allow Sri Lanka reach its full potential.’

With the strong possibility of Sri Lanka failing on its commitments and/or running out of time, the key countries of the UNHRC also need to look into other possible avenues to achieve accountability. This may include effective using of alternate UN processes, enforcing vetting procedures and travel restrictions, and the use of universal jurisdiction on those identified with war crimes and serious human rights abuses. The UN High Commissioner Zeid has been consistently persistent in this regard. In his most recent report he urged ‘the Human Rights Council to continue to play a critical role in encouraging progress in accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka’ and called on ‘Member States to explore other avenues, including the application of universal jurisdiction that could foster accountability.’ Despite the challenges such initiatives will encounter, these options are increasingly being discussed within the Tamil community, as well as among human rights defenders, due to the widespread loss of trust with the accountability processes so far.

No doubt Sri Lanka is at crossroads. It can jump start the stalled reconciliation processes defined by transitional justice and accountability for past crimes and constitutional settlement of the ethnic crisis. Or, return to the past characterised by dishonesty, deviousness, broken promises, U turns and managing expectations, all aimed at simple electoral victories and political calculations.

The hugely important role the international community can play at this crucial juncture in setting Sri Lanka in the right path cannot be overstated.

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