Jan 11, New York: The New York-based global human rights organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Sri Lankan government to adopt recommendations of the Consultation Task Force on including foreign judges in a domestic mechanism on accountability as stated in the consensus resolution the country sponsored with the United Nations Human Right Council.
Sri Lanka's government should promptly implement recommendations on transitional justice proposed by the Consultation Task Force (CTF) in a report released on January 3, 2017, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
The report reflects the first broad survey of Sri Lankan citizens on their aspirations for truth and justice, as called for by the October 2015 resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Key among the task force's recommendations is the creation of a war crimes court comprised of both international and national judges and other officials, with no time limit on its jurisdiction.
"The task force report is remarkably comprehensive and clear in setting out the concerns and needs expressed by Sri Lankans across all communities on the transitional justice process," said Brad Adams, Asia director. "The government should now own the report's recommendations and set out a framework for putting them into action, in line with its pledges at the Human Rights Council."
The Consultation Task Force appointed by the Prime Minister in February 2016 received 7,306 submissions on disappearances from the Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, and other communities, as well as the security services during the course of their hearings.
The CTF which concluded its consultations in August 2016 reported that there had been no government interference or attempts to impede their work, and that the report reflected the views of all 11 members.
In a news conference held after the report's release, CTF members noted that concerns about justice and accountability were raised both in the country's north and south by many in all communities.
The new government undertook a more conciliatory approach to domestic and international efforts to address the wartime accountability, and in October 2015 agreed at the UN Human Rights Council to establish at least four mechanisms on transitional justice, of which the consultations were part, the HRW said.
Sri Lanka is on the March 2017 agenda of the Human Rights Council, where High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein is expected to report on Sri Lanka's compliance with the resolution. This will include the government's willingness to promptly implement the CTF report recommendations.
However, the HRW said the immediate response by senior officials has been disappointing.
Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksha and Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne both separately ruled out the participation of foreign nationals on the special court, while Finance Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said that President Maithripala Sirisena rejected the inclusion of foreign judges and would not allow the government to prosecute "war heroes."
The cabinet spokesperson, Minister Senaratne claimed that Al Hussein had agreed that there should be no foreign involvement in the court during a previous meeting - a claim that Al Hussein himself immediately rejected, according to the Human Rights Watch.
HRW pointed out that the report recommendations also contain important confidence-building measures that the government could adopt immediately. These include a robust victim-witness protection law, meaningful outreach by the government across all communities, symbolic gestures to allow public grieving and memorialization, and a minority rights commission.
"The Sri Lankan government took the bold step of agreeing to a multi-ethnic task force for broad consultations on transitional justice," Adams said.
"Now that the task force has listened to the country, it's crucial that the government doesn't drop its key recommendations. The government should recognize that its commitments were not only to concerned governments in Geneva, but to its own citizens seeking justice and reconciliation after a terrible war."