Sri Lanka Black July 1983, Remembrance day, Panel discussion by BTF in association with All Party Parliamentary group for Tamils (APPGT-UK).
Black July 1983 Remembrance Day was hosted by BTF in association with APPGT-UK, on the 23rd of July 2018 at the UK parliaments committee room.
Opening the panel discussion, Ms.Shievanie Sabesan made a presentation on ‘’ CYCLES OF VIOLENCE & IMPUNITY’’ in Sri Lanka. On her presentation, she provided historical evidences chronologically from 1958, 1977,1983 anti- Tamil programs and moved on to the recent emblematic cases sighted by the UN report on Sri Lanka. She provided further evidence for the culture of violence and impunity from the internationally known cases of Trinco five students massacre, Mutur massacre of Action contre la Faim (ACF) INGO staff, assassination of Mr.LASANTHA WICKREMATUNGA, editor of Sunday Leader newspaper and the abduction of Mr. PRAJEETH EKENLIGODA, an independent Sinhala journalist. She concluded her presentation with the evidence from the recent attacks on the Muslim community in 2018. She summarised her presentation with the following remarks, ‘’Sri Lanka has a strong culture of impunity. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture said that “impunity continues to be the principal cause of the perpetuation and encouragement of human rights violations.” (2009) Discrimination and violence will prevail if Sri Lanka does not meet its obligations to ensure that justice is delivered.’’
Subsequently, Mr. M.C.M. Iqbal made a presentation, titled “Failed Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances and the upsurge of impunity in Sri Lanka’’. Mr. Iqbal had been a lecturer at various Institutions in Sri Lanka. Retired from the Civil Service of Sri Lanka after nearly 40 years of service. Had been involved in conducting inquiries and investigations into nearly 30,000 complaints of disappearances of persons while serving with Presidential commissions of inquiries appointed for this purpose in Sri Lanka. Subsequently he had been a consultant on Human Rights at the National Human Rights Commission and the Asia Foundation in Sri Lanka.
On his presentation Mr.Iqbal spoke from his experience with the presidential inquiries set up to investigate the culture of violence and impunity. On his speech he made the following observation’ ‘’Commissions of Inquiry in Sri Lanka are fact finding bodies and have no judicial power. Their task was to conduct inquiries and investigations into the complaints received in terms of their Mandate, which expected them, inter alia, to elicit ‘credible material indicative of the persons responsible’ for the disappearances of the persons concerned. They have to arrive at conclusions after inquiries and investigations based on a balance of probabilities and not look for evidence beyond reasonable doubt. Such Commissions are obliged to report their finding back to the President on the matters in their terms of reference. The law gives the option to the President to keep all the contents or any part of their Reports from being made public. Implementing any recommendation of such Commissions is at the sole discretion of the President. Consequently, not everyone is aware of the contents of these reports, in full.
They do not even know the names of the persons against whom credible material indicative of their responsibility for the disappearances had been found. The lists included not only those of police and security forces personnel but also of politicians and civilians. (This information is known to the writer as he was the Secretary to two such Commissions of Inquiry).Their names were never made public and hardly any action had been taken so far against any of them based on the findings of these Commissions. In fact, some of those whose names are in the lists of these Commissions, are in key positions today in various establishments under the State.’’
Further he said, ‘’ When the Udalagama Commission was appointed in 2006 to inquire into high profile human rights violations, to allay the fears of such Commissions are going to be a farce, the government invited a group of Independent International Group of Eminent Persons to ensure the inquiries of that Commission were conducted according to international norms and standards, In spite of that the Commission too was a flop. This is what the IIGEP had to say in their final Report on this matter “the absence of political will and (the) institutional inability of Sri Lanka to conduct human rights inquiries in accordance with international norms and standards” led to IIGEP aborting their mission. The Commissions terms too was ended before they could finish their task.’’
On the recent OMP mechanism setup by the Sri Lankan government Mr. Iqbal said,’’ During times of the Universal Periodic Review on the progress of human rights situation in the country, Sri Lanka has always painted a rosy picture of the human rights situation in the country and has made promises of progressively improving the situation. Often the Government has been taking measures that give a deceptive impression to the international community. A typical example of such an action is the creation of an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) almost two years after the law relating to it was enacted. On the face of it, this Office appears to honour the pledge to set up a mechanism to deal with issues of the victims of disappearances of persons that had taken place during the conflict. A closer look at the various provisions show, that it is a flawed institution. Besides the offence of disappearances of persons is still not in the Penal Code of Sri Lanka nor is the concept of command responsibility. Consequently, acting with impunity is the norm even today.’’
He concluded his speech with the following remark,’’ The UNHRC too appears to be gullible to undertakings by the Government and continues to give time to the Government to comply with the agreed provisions of UNHRC Resolution 30/1. Even the EU is guilty of such a generosity as it withdrew the ban of the tax concessions given to Sri Lanka believing false pretences of improvements in the human rights situation in the country. In view of this, it is inevitable that impunity will persist in the operations of the police and the security forces personnel. In fact, many have left the country after the assumption of a new Government in January 2015 and sought refuge in UK and other countries after having been victims of torture. It is time the international community recognises and understands the dynamics of human rights violations in Sri Lanka and the deceptive statements the government issues and ensures the rights of those victims of violations are protected, even by recourse to the principle of the UN’s Responsibility to Protect’’.
Senthil (BTF) speaking about Srilanka’s lack of progress on resolution 30/1 spoke of BTF along with CTC, USTPAC and ATC working together lobbying for continued international support and resolve to ensure Sri Lanka honours its commitments. The 2015 resolution was as a result of OISL report. It has components of transitional justice – Truth seeking, criminal prosecutions, non recurrence (institutional reforms) and reparation. GoSl continues to hoodwink the international community using tick box exercise on the implementation of resolution 30/1 without addressing the core accountability issues such as setting up Special counsel with Foreign Judges, prosecutors and investigators as well as enacting domestic laws to address war crimes, Crimes against humanity, genocide, and establishing command responsibility.
The USA exiting UNHRC adds to the challenges ahead. One of many examples of Srilanka claiming delivery of the resolution by using tick box exercise without actually delivery is the non-functioning OMP(Office of Missing Persons).We have had meeting with several countries including USA and UNHRC High commissioner’s office. As the earlier presenters had pointed out, various commissions set up previously have been utterly futile and the culture of impunity continues unabated. We continue to highlight to UNHRC members the lack of will and the deception game played by the Sri Lankan state while insisting on the need for a time bound implementation plan and further action for non-implementation of the resolution. We have been clamouring for participation of the victims in an OMP set up with robust witness protection guarantees. The OMP should collate all the documents from previous commissions on this and look at the entries, evidence etc given by the victims. It should also contact the victims who have fled the island and organise meeting
them at foreign embassies to give the victims assurance of impartiality etc and ensuring that action is taken to find the truth including helping them come to terms with the results. We have been assured that USA will continue to contribute their share of funding for UNHRC and that their commitment to ensuring SriLanka delivers on the resolution, will not be affected by their exit from UNHRC
Subsequent to Mr.Iqbal’s well researched presentation, a lively panel discussion took place between the audience and the panelist. Later Rt.HonStephen Timms, Eastham MP& member of APPGT Executive Committee and Mr. Wes Streeting Ilford North MP& Vice Chair of APPGT , spoke about their involvement and challenges ahead in lobbying the British government and international community, and emphasised the need for a focused and well-resourced campaigns to keep Sri Lanka under the international spotlight. Wes Streeting MP said “There is a danger in the next 12 months that Srilanka slips down the agenda of UNHRC. Because there are so many issues going on in the world keeping Sri lanka at the top of the agenda is very important, so the world doesn’t lose the focus on Sri Lanka. APPGT is going to lobby UK government, UNHRC in Geneva, lobby our allies in other states. David Cameron as Prime Minister having visited north personally invested in making sure that the question of the future of Srilanka was a priority for the Foreign office and it reflected at the UN.
We have to make sure our government puts human rights as priority. We need to work closely work with our EU allies to use GSP+ as leverage to try and improve current and historic human rights abuses of Tamils. UK has to play a very important role in Commonwealth. APPGT will lobby FCO to use the Foreign and Commonwealth office resources and influence appropriately. Please rest assured that APPGT remains a significant parliamentary voice, focussed on this.”
Saleh Mamon from CAMPACC delivered a message of solidarity with the Tamil people in their quest for justice.
Event was concluded with the summary of remarks from the moderator.
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