Sri Lanka: Task Force’s Recommendations — Opportunity to heal & prosper

The following statement issued by the Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka Inc.

( January 28, 2017, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM) was appointed by the current government in January last year. After extensive consultations with all affected communities across the country, a comprehensive and unanimous set of recommendations were made public on 3 January 2017. Since the release of their report, necessitated by the absence of a credible national process of accountability, the government has demonstrated a lukewarm attitude and callous disregard towards implementing their considered recommendations.

Sri Lanka’s judicial system has long been a contentious subject with many dispassionate legal experts from local and international bodies calling for significant reforms – particularly upon the assumption of power by the ‘Good Governance’. Recognising the need to build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the local justice system to deal with wartime human rights abuses committed by both sides of the conflict, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe sought the advice and guidance of the CTFRM, which concluded that the existing local mechanisms lacked the trust of the people and competency.

It is in this context that the Justice Minister’s hasty and outright rejection of the CTFRM’s Report has drawn widespread condemnation. His statement that “… This report, at this juncture, is totally unwarranted. Therefore, we don’t have to follow these recommendations by the CTF” fly in the face of not only international opinion, but also what the Government of Sri Lanka claims to be trying to achieve – Reconciliation.  The Minister’s assertion that – ‘even the UN could not force the government to include foreign judges, as it was against the UN charter to force or to pressure member states’ – begs the question how honest and serious is the State that co-sponsored a unanimous resolution at the UNHRC in 2015, which affirmed ‘the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators’.

The Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka (AAGGSL) is of the view that the members of the CTFRM have done an admirable job in identifying the deep rooted suspicions of the victims and the many confidence-building measures, including the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the immediate release of persons held under the PTA without charges, which can set the course of genuine reconciliation in motion, albeit belatedly.

We also welcome the Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s pledge, made once again on 11 January at the Chatham House, London, to “deal with the past honestly and truthfully, accept that past, put it behind us, and then move forward to build our Sri Lankan nation anew.”

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The candid recommendations of the CTFRM should be taken seriously to establish not only a Truth Seeking Commission and a Reparations Office, but also deliver transitional justice for all affected parties, with international participation, honestly and sincerely.

If Columbia – a country that was not long ago on the brink of becoming a failed state could be named The Economist’s Country of the Year 2016 – even though its negotiated peace deal with FARC is ‘incomplete and involves ugly compromises’, Sri Lanka can certainly do better.

AAGGSL calls upon all arms of the Sri Lankan Government and Opposition groups, not to take confrontational positions, but to work together to build a nation of peace and justice to all its peoples, with a prudent and probing concern for the future. We urge the Sri Lankan leadership of all political and religious persuasions to help implement the recommendations of the CTFRM fully and expeditiously.

It is worth recalling the words of wisdom of Mümtaz Soysal, Deputy Chair – Amnesty International (1977). “Where there is injustice, there is the seed of conflict. Where human rights are violated, there are threats to peace.”

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