Sri Lanka’s Witness Protection Authority
by International Truth & Justice Project, South Africa, February 13, 2017
The new body set up in Sri Lanka to protect witnesses and victims of crimes, the “National Authority” includes three appointments made by the Government of President Maithripala Sirisena that give rise to grave concerns about the appropriateness of their appointments. They include an alleged perpetrator of torture named in a UN report, as well as the official in charge of “rehabilitation” camps post-war where detainees had no appeal rights and describe being severely tortured. Under these circumstances no witness or victim can rely on the state for protection if they testify against the security forces in Sri Lanka at a Truth Commission or court of law.
Witness protection is at the heart of the accountability process Sri Lanka promised its people. Appointing figures to a witness protection body who could one day find themselves on trial for serious crimes like torture, is akin to putting wolves to guard the sheep. This raises serious concerns about the good faith of the Government to deliver on its international commitments and its promises of justice to its own people.
Moreover these appointments violate Sri Lanka’s commitments in the 2015 UN Resolution to strengthen witness protection and vet all public officials for their human rights record. These are not the only questionable appointments; in November 2016 the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister1 approved sending the official who once run the country’s most notorious torture site to Geneva as part of the government delegation to the UN Committee Against Torture2 .