After the end of the 23-year-old civil war in Sri Lanka between the government and the Tamil Tigers and other ethnic minority separatist groups, a human rights organization decided that both the separatist groups and the government of Sri Lanka perpetrated human rights violations, some even counting up to the charge of war crimes. Following the report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations, the Human Rights Council took up the matter drafting a resolution that was co-sponsored by the United States, Britan, and other nations, including Sri Lanka itself.
The resolution that was produced called for a number of things, including the creation of an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) for the forced disappearances that had occurred during the civil war, criminal war tribunals, and the amendment of domestic constitutional laws; this includes the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which allowed the government to kidnap and detain its citizens for undisclosed reasons for any period of time. The resolution, the Human Rights Council’s consensus resolution 30/1, the October 2015 resolution on transitional justice, has largely failed to be implemented by Sri Lanka.
A recent interview by President Maithripala Sirisena at the Sri Lankan network Derana on February 6th, 2018 denounced the resolution, which his administration co-sponsored, completely. In this interview, the Sri Lankan President made various claims that depict either a genuine or construed ignorance of what these and other UN resolutions called for and an admission on the Sri Lankan co-sponsorship of HRC resolution 30/1.
On February 9th, the Asian Tribune reported:
“When the president declared in the interview that Sri Lanka had not been accused of committing any international war crimes he displayed his ignorance that the UNHRC Resolution 30/1, a joint effort by his own government and the United States, in several places called for accountability for past abuses. In fact the March 2017 subsequent resolution in Geneva clearly used the term ‘war crimes’ noting that the government of Sri Lanka agreed to probe the issue.”
Then the president made another admission, stating that the reason that he had removed Mangala Samaraweera from the position of Foreign Minister was regarding the resolution he co-sponsored with the United States at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
According to the Asian Tribune:
“The resolution proposed to invite foreign judges to investigate allegations of human rights violations during the military offensive against the separatist Tamil Tigers. The president stated that he did not agree to the involvement of foreign judges then, and he does not agree with it now. 'Therefore I told them not to send foreign judges to my country. There will be no international war tribunals or electric chairs,' he said, in the interview with Derana 360°.”
Whether this ignorance is genuine, which seems unlikely, or simply created as a way out of Sri Lanka’s promises to the UN and the international community, one thing that it's not is shocking. The Sri Lankan government continues to use the very policies that the HRC resolution wanted to conduct these tribunals in reference to. For example, concerning the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, the Sri Lankan government says more than 80 detainees are still being held under this act but human rights groups believe that number to be much higher.
All the while, President Sirisena continues to adamantly state that there are no secret detention and torture camps in Sri Lanka. Even the one part of the resolution that has been fulfilled has been little more than for show. The Office of Missing Persons is the only mechanism in which any progress has been made, and yet even with this the office has not been formally constituted and operationalized. In addition, the initial steps have been conducted in less than perfect ways, with little to no consideration for the victims' voices and concerns, as well as the lack of transparency about the Constitutional Council’s selection process of the OMP chairs. This has left it wide open to allegations and due process has been subverted as a result of political bargaining, which will have profound consequences for the future of the OMP.
There is still speculation toward Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former president of Sri Lanka, who was in power during the atrocities committed in the civil war. As Rajapaksa regains his power, the current administration is afraid of losing to him and then being left at his mercy. This may lead to further conflict as violence and riots ensue.