The state must release private land occupied by its armed forces, address lingering concerns of militarisation, enforced disappearances and livelihood opportunities in order to move ahead on its promise of reconciliation, a Sri Lankan task force has observed.
The government-appointed Consultation Task Force (CTF), comprising civil society members such as activists and academicians, held island-wide consultations on the Sri Lankan government’s proposed reconciliation mechanisms following the UNHRC resolution in 2015.
Sri Lanka, which co-sponsored the resolution, proposed four mechanisms for reconciliation — Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-Recurrence, Office of Missing Persons, Office of Reparations and a Judicial Mechanism with Special Counsel.
In January 2016, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed the CTF to seek national views on reconciliation mechanisms. The consultations were conducted independent of government intervention, members said.
Releasing its report on January 3, based on public hearings and discussions across Sri Lanka, the team recommended a “hybrid court” with both local and foreign judges to prosecute war crimes.
The report comes days after Prime Minister Wickremesinghe made a public statement ruling out foreign judges, a contentious issue among nationalist forces among the majority Sinhalese. President Maithripala Sirisena too has opposed international judges, raising questions on whether the government will muster enough political will to move ahead on reconciliation, amid domestic political compulsions.
Addressing a press conference here on Thursday, CTF secretary Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said it was crucial that international legal experts participate, because the existing local mechanisms lacked the trust of the people and competency.
“Many people who participated in the consultations demanded confidence-building measures to bridge the trust deficit,” he said, pointing the need for constitutional reforms, de-militarisation, return of private land and to repeal Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which the state continues to invoke.
‘Array of perpetrators’
The consultations, according to CTF member and researcher Mirak Raheem, threw light on an “array of perpetrators”, and victims among both the Tamils and Sinhalese.
Perpetrators ranged from the state, its armed forces, the police, the Janata Vimukthi Perumuna — a leftist nationalist party involved in two armed uprisings — to various Tamil militant groups, including the LTTE, and members of the Indian Peace Keeping Force — a military contingent deployed for a peace keeping operation in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990.
Concerns over land under state occupation and livelihoods recurred at discussions just in the Tamil-majority north and east, but also in the south, members said. “The amount of deprivation and breakdown of livelihood was unbelievable in many areas,” said CTF’s Manouri Muttetuwegama, a senior lawyer and long-time human rights activist.
Batticaloa academic Sitralega Maunaguru pointed to many, particularly among Tamils of recent Indian origin living in the island’s Central Province, who underscored their prolonged marginalisation by the Sri Lankan state.