No Progress on Accountability
Despite decades of promises by the Sri Lankan government, the people of Sri Lanka have seen no justice, or accountability, for the human rights violations which have occurred in the country over several decades. Instead of pursuing accountability, the Sri Lankan government has shielded institutions associated with mass atrocity crimes, and alleged perpetrators have been promoted, not prosecuted. This has allowed these same individuals and institutions to perpetuate violations across several generations, leading to regular and devastating cycles of violence on the island. We at the Sri Lanka Campaign have published 1 essay and 2 reports discussing the crisis of accountability in Sri Lanka; its underlying causes; and why the current economic crisis sweeping the island has made the issue even more pressing.
Due to the abject failure of the Sri Lankan authorities, many victim-survivors and their families have lost all faith in domestic accountability mechanisms, and are calling on the international community to intervene. The Sri Lanka Campaign believes UN member states should:
- Push for a strong resolution on Sri Lanka at the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council in September-October 2022. This new resolution should include a renewal of the evidence-gathering mechanism established by resolution 46/1, which allows the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to collect, consolidate, analyse, and preserve evidence relating to gross human rights violations and violations of international law.
- Implement the recommendations of the High Commissioner for Human Rights by pursuing bilateral accountability options, including by:
- Imposing targeted sanctions on ‘credibly alleged perpetrators of grave human rights violations and abuses;’ and
- Using the principles of extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction to ‘investigate and prosecute international crimes committed by all parties in Sri Lanka through judicial proceedings in domestic jurisdictions.’
- Immediately halt all engagement with the Sri Lankan armed forces until there is meaningful security sector reform, including accountability for individuals credibly accused of human rights violations.
- Ensure that conditions for economic aid to Sri Lanka prioritise human rights and governance concerns, including:
- Accountability for those credibly accused of individuals and institutions credibly accused of involvement in enforced disappearances and other human rights violations;
- A clear path to truth and justice for families of the disappeared;
- legal or constitutional changes to ensure the independence of key human rights institutions; and
- the reform of institutions like the Sri Lankan army, which has a deep-rooted culture of impunity.
- Demand that the Sri Lankan government signs the Rome Statue, which would allow the International Criminal Court to pursue justice and accountability for historic and ongoing human rights violations.
- Denounce the violent and militarised repression of anti-government protests in the country, as well as the ongoing arrest of human rights activists and protestors in Sri Lanka.
- Demand that UN Peacekeeping halts the deployment of Sri Lankan troops until serious reforms are made to the security sector.
- Refer Sri Lanka to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED), under Article 32 of the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.
Why does Accountability Matter?
More than a decade after the bloody ending of the civil war in Sri Lanka, some of those in power have called for the country’s different communities to move on from past atrocities and reconcile. In January, the President – himself accused of mass atrocity crimes – called on citizens to unite and “set aside…dark memories” of the war.
Far from moving on, victims of the island’s repeated cycles of violence continue to fight for truth and justice. But years after many of these crimes were committed, why is accountability still important?
Cycles of Violence in Sri Lanka: A Crisis of Accountability – Report
Following years of mismanagement by successive governments in Sri Lanka, the country has recently erupted in a wave of protests as the economy has totally collapsed. Food, fuel, and other basic necessities have become scarce and expensive, whilst the nation’s political class has so far proved totally incapable of managing the crisis. As Sri Lankans took to the streets in increasing numbers in April and May 2022 the government’s eventual recourse was to call in the military, which arrived in force in Colombo.
Throughout the recent unrest, protestors have continually demanded accountability for politicians, particularly those of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Rajapaksa family, who they blame for mismanaging the economy. The Rajapaksas have been accused of corruption and nepotism, and there have been persistent calls for them not only to resign, but to face prosecution for these accusations. After protestors occupied government buildings on July 9, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country, later resigning his office. However, his appointed successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has thus far continued to shield those responsible for the economic crisis, and most of the politicians accused of financial misdeeds have yet to face legal consequences for their actions.
However, as some protestors have argued, the accountability crisis in Sri Lanka is not a recent phenomenon. Indeed, protestors in the predominantly Tamil-speaking North and East of the country have long battled against Sri Lanka’s culture of impunity, which has shielded prominent political and military officials from prosecution for crimes committed during the Sri Lankan civil war. Many of those same military and political leaders have also been implicated in other human rights abuses, such as the murder of journalists in the 2000s, as well as the abuses committed as part of the counter-insurgency operations during the JVP uprising of the late 1980s. Under the government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, these individuals were protected and often even promoted; President Ranil Wickremesinghe has shown little desire to change this, as many of those accused of mass atrocity crimes remain in official positions, or even serve in his cabinet.
There is a long-running crisis of accountability in Sri Lanka, which has not only protected those responsible for human rights and economic abuses but has allowed them to remain in power and commit further abuses. For Sri Lankans, this has resulted not only in economic mismanagement, but in constant cycles of violence and conflict.
This report contains information required by the Campaign’s partners in Sri Lanka from interviews with victim-survivors and their friends and families.
Disappearances in Sri Lanka: A Continuing Crime – Report
The Government of Sri Lanka has an obligation, both according to international treaties and the Sri Lankan Constitution, to respect, promote, and protect human rights in the country. Unfortunately, successive governments have fallen far short of meeting that obligation. In Sri Lanka, a climate of impunity for perpetrators has meant that human rights are not properly protected, and that there has not been accountability for past or ongoing violations.
This culture of impunity and lack of accountability has been particularly disastrous for the family members of the forcibly disappeared. The government has continually spoken of its commitment to justice of these disappearances and has created bodies like the Office of Missing Persons to deal with cases, but when no progress has been made, all these promises seem like empty words to the mothers and fathers who still do not know what has happened to their children.
This lack of accountability has not only allowed past abuses to go unpunished but has led to continuous cycles of human rights violations in the country. Achieving truth and justice for the families of the disappeared is a necessary step in creating a more human rights-friendly Sri Lanka.
This report contains quotes from select interviews conducted with victims, family members, and human rights activists.