More Concerns about Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka

More Concerns about Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka
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Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has recently received a letter from Tamil civil society organizations and individuals. The letter deals broadly with Colombo's plans for transitional justice and the way the creation of an Office for Missing Persons (OMP) is being handled. The OMP is one of the major pillars of the country's transitional justice agenda.

Among other matters, the letter notes that the government has failed to properly consult the victims thus far, something that's cause for significant concern. "We categorically state that an OMP that is designed without proper consultation with the victims and their communities would be unacceptable," write the signatories.

Here's another part of the letter:

Without international involvement in the OMP it will be extremely difficult for the victims to place faith in the institution. Given that the Sri Lankan Armed Forces are to-date involved in threatening victims and activists in the North-East and the veneration accorded to them by most if not all major political actors in the South, it will very difficult to envisage willingness and imagine the possibility of an OMP made up of exclusively Sri Lankan nationals, undertaking a vigorous process of evidence collection and tracing. For example, it is difficult to conceive how the OMP made exclusively of Sri Lankans, in the current power imbalance, will have the moral and practical courage to enter camps and prisons and properly investigate alleged acts of disappearances. The OMP will be sufficiently empowered to be independent only when qualified foreign individuals known for their integrity, independence and professionalism are included in its composition. We wish to stress that this is the underlying rationale of the hybrid process recommended in the OISL report and the [U.N. Human Rights Council] UNHRC Resolution...and that it should apply to all aspects of the transitional justice process.

Indeed, a degree of international participation is necessary to ensure that the process is inclusive and credible. Besides, that's what the coalition government agreed to when it co-sponsored a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council last year.

As will be recalled the UNHRC Resolution is most explicit in its calling for foreign participation in the judicial mechanism [to deal with alleged wartime abuses]. It is with regard to this commitment that the Government has been wavering ever since the resolution was passed, with the President suggesting that no foreign judges will be allowed. Given the above, it appears that the Government is keen on postponing the issue of prosecutions, while wanting to appear to be acting on setting up the OMP.

It will be interesting to see what sort of response (if any) the government provides. The issues raised in this letter merit immediate attention.

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