Discussion Paper: The Need for a Comprehensive Reparations Policy and Package
27 April 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka: For any post war society grappling with the consequences of past violence and engaged in exploring modalities for transitional justice, reparations is an important tool. Reparations, if designed and implemented in an inclusive manner that factors in the grievances of the victims and affected communities, can be an effective tool in acknowledging and addressing the injustices of the past. It is a bridge between the past and the future, and an integral element in the transition towards reconciliation.
The numerous transitional justice initiatives in Sri Lanka, in the past, have at different times explored the issue of reparations, many in ad-hoc forms with no comprehensive policy yet to be introduced that meets basic international standards. Past commissions of inquiry (COIs) including the All Island Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal and Disappearance of Certain Persons of 1998 (Disappearances COI) and the more recent Lessons Learnt Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recognized the need for reparations and made some useful recommendations including legal and policy reform and assistance to victims. There have also been government circulars and programs to award compensation and issue death certificates including the work of the Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Industries Authority (REPPIA). This paper discusses some of these initiatives, some which continue to be relevant and necessary today, and provides recommendations that should be examined and implemented without further delay.
The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) reiterates its advocacy over the years for truth, justice, reparations and institutional reform. In the post war context, CPA has done considerable work in documenting trends and patterns of ongoing violations and advocated reform including legal and policy reform. CPA has also called for action in terms of the four arms of transitional justice and has initiated dialogues among the different stakeholders on the areas that require reform. In this regard, CPA will produce several policy documents to feed into the design and implementation of processes and mechanisms of transitional justice, which will generate a wider discussion on transitional justice and related issues. This is an initial paper on reparations, which will be followed by several other initiatives…
This paper discusses the importance of reparations to facilitate reconciliation. The issues of disappearances and land and property are used to demonstrate the need to design and implement a comprehensive reparations policy and package that meet the present needs and grievances of different communities in Sri Lanka. As mentioned, many of the recommendations made by previous COIs on this issue continues to be relevant today and should be revisited by the authorities. It is important for the authorities to review existing compensation schemes and circulars and identify lessons learnt. This paper highlights the principles that should be used as a guide when designing a policy and package that seeks to redress grievances, and with the aim of long term peace and reconciliation. CPA recommends the following as immediate measures that can be taken
I. Larger Policy Initiatives
• Formulate a Reparations Package that provides for legal and policy reform and formulates administrative measures that address the grievances of different communities.
• Introduce a comprehensive Reparations Policy after wide consultations with different stakeholders including victims and affected communities.
• Revise existing circulars and administrative measures and ensure all administrative policies and practices meet international standards and basic principles. These include revising amounts to be paid as compensation.
• Initiate an outreach campaign in Sinhala, Tamil and English to inform of the different reparation initiatives and steps people should take to access assistance and services.
II. Recommendations Addressing Needs of Communities Affected by Violence
• Establish a Trust Fund for Victims, which provides for financial assistance to dependents including scholarships for children of victims of past violence.
• Initiate health care programs for victims and affected communities that address both physical and psychosocial health issues.
• Provide for a vocational training scheme for victims, affected communities and their families.
III. Recommendations Specific to Disappearances
• Explore avenues to introduce a provision when issuing death certificates based on ‘absence by reason of disappearance’ as seen in Argentina and Peru which provides for a civil status for victims and their relatives without declaring victims dead. This can provide for the families to access compensation and other reparations without declaring the person dead.
• Introduce initiatives to assist relatives and friends of missing persons to help locate these individuals, including through a publicly accessible and responsive family tracing system.
• Issue a list of people detained and places of detention and provide detainees access to their families and legal counsel.
• Provide the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to all detention and rehabilitation centres in Sri Lanka.
• Appoint a panel of lay persons including individuals from civil society who are able to regularly visit police stations, detention and rehabilitation centres to speak to detainees and check police records and who are able to keep the relevant authorities including the Human Rights Commission informed of the status of cases and raise issues related to arrests and detentions.
IV. Recommendations Related to Land & Property
• Conduct a comprehensive survey on the situation of IDPs and a comprehensive survey to assess the situation of land and property which can provide an informed opinion on the situation of those living in displacement, ownership of land, damage to property and situation of landlessness among others and inform assistance programs.
• Return lands, including lands occupied by security forces to legal land -owners. Lands required for official and security reasons should be acquired in adherence to the Land Acquisition Act.
• Provide land documentation to people whose documents were destroyed or lost during the war. • Initiate dispute resolution processes at the divisional level to decide on land disputes including competing claims and boundary issues with different mechanisms such as land task forces and Special Mediation Boards.18
• The Registration of Title Act should be implemented across Sri Lanka to ensure secure title. This should be done with an awareness campaign as to what the titling project entails and therefore ensure that people are informed of the process and its impact.
• Assistance should be provided to address damage to property. The Office for National Unity and Reconciliation should work with the relevant ministries and district and divisional actors in the areas to identify housing and other needs and formulate an assistance package.
• The head of household concept should include both men and women and this should be recognized at the administrative levels.
V. Symbolic Measures
• A public apology from the Government to recognize the past violence and promise steps at institutional reform to prevent a recurrence of violence.
• Creation of memory spaces across Sri Lanka, which recognize the multiple narratives and provides the space for victims, families and others to grieve, remember and recognize.
• A National Day to remember all the victims of the conflict. • Initiate a publicly accessible, comprehensive documentation and archiving system for past processes and mechanisms as well as any future initiative.
The first 100 days of the government has passed with limited progress in terms of transitional justice and reconciliation. It is to be seen what awaits us in the next 100 days and beyond. A comprehensive reparations policy and package is necessary to demonstrate the government’s commitment to recognizing and correcting the injustice and wrongs of the past. Both individual and collective reparation packages can be identified, which benefit the people from across Sri Lanka. These can contain both actual and symbolic measures and include compensation, health and education assistance, return of land and the creation and maintenance of memory spaces. There is no bar to the number of initiatives that can be introduced. What is important is that process and substance meet basic international standards and principles. Any short cuts or compromises due to political expediency will result in perpetuating the wrongs and injustices of the past. Therefore, the design and implementation of a reparations policy and package must require urgent and careful attention.