UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances Letter to SLG

by UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, May 11, 2020

Working Group on Enforced Disappearances letter to SLG May 2020

Mandates of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; ; the Special
Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; the Special Rapporteur on the
situation of human rights defenders; and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice,
reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence

REFERENCE: AL LKA 1/2020
11 May 2020

Excellency,
We have the honour to address you in our capacities as Working Group on
Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary
or arbitrary executions; Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;
and Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of
non-recurrence, pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 36/6, 35/15, 34/5 and
36/7.

Our purpose in writing is to express concern and seek clarifications on the
Government of Sri Lanka’s intended policies with regards to addressing enforced
disappearances in the country and recent statements from the Government and
developments on this issue.1

We note with concern the announcement by Sri Lanka that it intends to withdraw
from the co-sponsorship of the process initiated by Human Rights Council resolution
30/12 and we encourage the Government to reconsider its approach. While we welcome
information that the Government remains committed to achieving accountability and
human rights, towards sustainable peace and reconciliation, 3 we believe the engagement
with the Human Rights Council process has an important role to play in achieving these
aims.

We welcome assurances in official statements that the Office of the Missing
Persons (OMP) and the Office of Reparations will continue to operate. However, we note
that the Government indicated it would take “appropriate adaptation in line with the
Government policy framework.”4 We would like to underline the importance of ensuring
that the OMP’s independence is scrupulously respected and that it is provided with
adequate resources to effectively fulfil its mandate. Pursuant to article 12 of the
International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced disappearance
(CED), which Sri Lanka ratified on 25 May 2016, we underscore your Excellency’s
Government’s obligation to ensure impartial and thorough investigations into enforced
disappearances, with the competent authorities having the necessary powers and
resources to conduct the investigation effectively. We further wish to emphasise that any
adaptation of the OMP’s work should be done in full consultation with relevant civil
society actors as well as victims, and in compliance with international standards. We
would like to take this opportunity to request additional detailed information on the
adaptions envisaged and the Government’s policy framework in this regard. We would
additionally like to highlight that victims have a right to obtain reparation and prompt,
fair and adequate compensation (article 24 of CED). We also encourage the Government
to consider the families of disappeared, who may face specific challenges at this time, in
any relief measures planned to address COVID-19.

We note the information presented to the Human Rights Council that steps may be
taken to issue death certificates or certificates of absence, while also providing livelihood
and other assistance to affected families.5

In this respect, we recommend that Sri Lanka
takes appropriate steps with regard to the legal situation of disappeared persons whose
fate has not been clarified, including legal frameworks for their relatives in fields such as
social welfare, financial matters, family law and property rights. We stress that such
assistance is particularly pressing the current circumstances, and should be provided
without prejudice to the obligation to continue the investigation until the fate of the
disappeared person has been clarified and that, even in the case of death, Sri Lanka is
required to take all appropriate measures to locate, respect and return the remains (Art 24
CED).

Our concerns are heightened by information that a Commission of Inquiry
appointed by the President to look into alleged “political victimisation”6
has purported to order the Attorney General to halt legal proceedings in ongoing disappearance cases. We
welcome information that national law enforcement systems will continue to investigate
and prosecute cases on all allegations of torture and other human rights violations that are
currently before the judicial processes,7 and hope this includes the emblematic enforced
disappearances cases which are currently being tried. We are alarmed by information that
Former Army sergeant Sunil Ratnayake was granted a Presidential Pardon in March 2020
after being convicted of the murder of eight civilians including children. Sri Lanka has an
obligation to hold criminally responsible perpetrators of enforced disappearances and
other serious violations under international humanitarian law, as well as certain superior
officers (article 6 CED and customary international humanitarian law), and to impose
sanctions that are appropriate and proportionate to the crime committed.
With regards to the allegations of surveillance, harassment and reprisals targeting
certain human rights defenders and civil society actors, we welcome the Government’s
commitment to ensure that complaints received on alleged attacks are investigated and
prosecuted.8 We would like to take the opportunity to refer to communications sent to the
Government raising allegations of this type to which we have not received a reply,
including communications LKA 5/20199 and LKA 2/201810. We remind that individuals
including witnesses, relatives and defence counsels should be protected against any form
of intimidation, harassment or ill-treatment and that the Government has the duty to
guarantee the right to form and participate freely in organisations and associations
concerned with attempting to establish the circumstances of enforced disappearance, the
fate of disappeared persons and to assist victims of enforced disappearances (article 12
and 24 CED). We hope that detailed replies will be received to the questions raised in
these communications and to any future communications on the issue, so that an effective
and constructive dialogue can be pursued with the Government on these important
matters.

We note with concern that the aforementioned statements have heightened fears
amongst families with regards to the process going forward for finding out the fate and
whereabouts of their disappeared relatives. Under International law, families have the
right to know the truth regarding the circumstances of the enforced disappearance of their
relatives, the progress and the results of the investigations and the fate of the disappeared
person (article 24 CED).

We welcome assurances that Sri Lanka will continue to engage in a constructive
manner with the regular processes and mechanisms of the UN including the Special
Procedures.11 We hope this will include implementation of the recommendations made by
the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances after their visit to Sri
Lanka in report A/HRC/33/51/Add.212 and in the follow up report on the visit
A/HRC/42/40/Add.113. The Working Group also reiterates its readiness to assist Sri
Lanka in the implementation of these recommendations and in addressing the issue of
enforced disappearances in line with its obligations under the CED.

As it is our responsibility, under the mandates provided to us by the Human
Rights Council, to seek to clarify all issues brought to our attention, we would be grateful
for any information or comment you may wish to provide on the above mentioned areas
and for detailed information on the Government’s intended policies with regards to
addressing enforced disappearances in the country and to implement its obligations under
the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced disappearance.

We would appreciate receiving a response within 60 days. Passed this delay, this
communication and any response received from your Excellency’s Government will be
made public via the communications reporting website. They will also subsequently be
made available in the usual report to be presented to the Human Rights Council.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration.

Luciano Hazan
Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

Agnes Callamard
Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

Mary Lawlor
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Fabian Salvioli
Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of nonrecurrence

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