by ‘Groundviews.org,’ Colombo, March 27, 2017
Sri Lanka recently co-sponsored a resolution at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council, allowing Sri Lanka two more years to implement the recommendations made in Resolution 30/1 of 2015.
One of the most controversial topics has been the level of international participation in a judicial mechanism.
Several bodies have called for Sri Lanka to include foreign judges in its accountability process. UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein flagged Sri Lanka’s slow progress on transitional justice when presenting a report on Sri Lanka and added, “Continuing unwillingness or inability to address impunity reinforced the need for international participation in a judicial mechanism. That mechanism should include a special counsel, foreign judges and defence lawyers, and authorised prosecutors and investigators.”
In an interactive dialogue after the presentation of UN High Commissioner Zeid’s report on Sri Lanka, the United States said, “Government statements against international participation in any future Sri Lankan judicial mechanism raise understandable concerns among victims and families about the integrity of any judicial process.” Human Rights Watch said Sri Lanka’s increased unwillingness to consider international involvement “directly contravenes the call by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for a “hybrid” justice mechanism given the shortcomings of domestic institutions to ensure impartial investigations and witness protection… It is a core component of the resolution, which the Sri Lankan government embraced through its co-sponsorship, and an important recommendation of the CTF.” Amnesty International in a statement to the Human Rights Council said Sri Lanka “must not back away from the commitment [to include international investigators, prosecutors and judges]. “International support will…help encourage trust and a perception of fairness on the part of victims, many of whom express deep disillusionment regarding the implementation of Sri Lanka’s commitments.”
A common thread running through these statements was the need for credibility in any accountability mechanism. Executive Director to the Centre for Policy Alternatives and Secretary to the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu pointed out that the reason the call for foreign involvement was so strong was because a section of the population, including victims had felt an exclusively domestic mechanism would not be credible. “If Sri Lanka is definitely not going ahead with foreign judges, it is up to the Government to negotiate and convince stakeholders regarding its position on internationals in an entirely domestic probe,” Dr Saravanamuttu said.
More recently, the Government has issued statements to the effect that a hybrid court is not feasible as it is not in line with Sri Lanka’s constitution. This position has been contested by Attorney-at-Law and Co-Founder of South Asian Centre for Legal Studies Niran Anketell in a recent interview.
“There is nothing in the Sri Lankan constitution that talks about the nationality of Judges. It only requires an Oath to be taken. In my view that Oath can be taken by any person [who aims] to protect and defend the constitution.”
Perhaps the reason that credibility has become such a central issue stems from the Government itself. Over the past two years, the Government has issued many confusing (and often directly contradictory) statements on accountability.
In light of the newly adopted resolution, and the debate around the need for a hybrid court, Groundviews has updated its timeline recording the Government’s own statements on accountability. View the timeline directly here, or below.