Centre for Policy Alternatives


The plight of Tamil civilians and  surviving LTTE  recruits represents on of the horrors of wars of attrition. Both the democratic forces of Sri Lanka and the world over have been urging the Sri Lanka government to abide by the internationally recognized norms of human rights. However, the steps taken by the government of Sri Lanka to restore basic rights of Tamil civilians have been too little and  recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission(LLRC)  have not been implemented.


The last few weeks have witnessed increased activity by the Government of Sri Lanka in announcing various measures recently taken and to be taken to strengthen human rights, peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka including the implementation of some interim and final recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission(LLRC) issued in September 2010 and November 2011, respectively. Any genuine effort to address human rights, governance, a political solution and reconciliation is welcome. Yet the suddenness of such statements raises questions of timing and the genuine will of the Government. They should be seen against the backdrop of the impending resolution on Sri Lanka at the 19th  Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The heightened activity raises the question as to whether these measures are yet another ploy to distract its critics from the absence of a real plan of implementation for the LLRC recommendations. This short note looks at GOSL rhetoric and demonstrates the fundamental flaws in the structure of government in addressing human rights violations and accountability issues, the failures of past domestic processes and the need for immediate action by the international community.


Government’s Rhetoric and Ground Realities


At the outset, several achievements by the Government since the end of the war must be noted. Government figures indicate over 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) returning to their districts of origin, removal of emergency regulations, some reduction of High Security Zones (HSZs), ‘rehabilitation’ and release of over 10,000 former LTTE ex-combatants and the reconstruction of infrastructure in the war ravaged North and East. On the policy front, the formulation of the National Human Rights Action Plan(NHRAP) is indicative of the Government’s stand on specific human rights issues. In addition, the establishment of the LLRC by the present Government in May 2010 as an answer to the international call for accountability and reconciliation also marked a positive step in identifying the challenges to reconciliation and peace in post-war Sri Lanka. While the list is impressive, ground realities show a different story. The following are some brief points to demonstrate that while on paper the above developments can paint a picture of positive change, serious problems persist:


Violations continue unabated across Sri Lanka, including disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and threats to freedom of speech, expression and assembly.


Peaceful protests have been met with brutal force resulting in deaths of


The situation in Sri Lanka – an unsigned statement from Sri Lankan civil society, February 2012- protesters and threats to human rights defenders and media who have been critical of violations and Government practices.



Thousands of persons are still unable to return to their homes and continue to live in displacement. Some of those who have been able to return to their districts of origin – thereby reducing official IDP figures – are unable to return to their own homes and continue to live in displacement.


Military occupation of private property, presence of land mines, secondary occupation and theacquisition of land for development purposes, disregarding the established legal framework, are some of the reasons for continued displacement.


While emergency regulations are no longer in existence, the Government lost no time in introducing similar measures under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).


These regulations can be promulgated by the Executive at any time and without reference to Parliament or any oversight mechanism.


The military and police continue to occupy large tracts of private land in the North and East, including the appropriation of land for ‘ad-hoc’ HSZs, with no legal rationale provided for such large scale occupation.


The security of ex-combatants released is questionable when thousands continue to be under surveillance and need to report regularly to the military and police.


The role of the military in civilian administration continues, including in assuming a dominant role in day-to-day tasks at the village-level such as the registration and photographing of civilians, approving the holding of functions at the community-level, approving beneficiary lists and coordinating NGO activities in the area.


The extent of militarization is also evident with the presence of retired military officials in governance structures such as the two Governors for the North and East respectively, and the Government Agent for Trincomalee district (in the Eastern Province) – all of whom are key officials in the administration of these areas.


The National Anthem of Sri Lanka continues to be sung in Sinhala including at official events in the predominantly Tamil  speaking North and East.


Those contesting this practice have been threatened.


The final report of the IIGEP found a ‘lack of political will to support a search for the truth’ , highlighting the present dilemma faced by domestic processes and a problem likely to be faced by any future entity unless fundamental systematic flaws are addressed.


The Need for Action


A common element for any action by the GOSL in recent times is directly linked to international pressure and as a result the role played by some international actors cannotbe discounted. The LLRC is one such example. The present call for a resolution within the UNHRC on Sri Lanka has provoked a torrent of promises by the Government of Sri Lanka – the most recent being the promise to enact a witness protection bill, which was a promise first made as far back as 2007 by the then Minister for Human Rights and present envoy on the same subject, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe.


Recent weeks have also witnessed an unprecedented level of advocacy in Geneva and key capitals with significant resources spent merely to keep the international community at bay, even though those resources could have been better spent on addressing the growing problems within Sri Lanka. Civil society in Sri Lanka has witnessed countless years of violence and missed opportunities to address lasting peace and reconciliation. Worthless promises and delaying tactics by the Government of Sri Lanka reinforce the culture of impunity rather


March 2012

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