Unrealised human rights commitments marked 2019 for Sri Lanka – Amnesty

Unrealised government commitments to pursue truth, justice and reparations, continued impunity for violations and abuses, compromised freedoms of religion and expression characterised 2019 for Sri Lanka, Amnesty International said in a report.

The global human rights watchdog, in its ‘Human Rights in Asia-Pacific’ report for 2019 published yesterday (January 30), highlighted the socio-political consequences of last year’s Easter Sunday attacks, amid failures on the part of the government of Sri Lanka to meet its transitional justice obligations.

“Amnesty International finds that the fallout from the April bombings bred communal violence, endangered minorities and put freedoms in peril. Justice and reparations for the 30-year conflict seem to be increasingly out of reach for the victims, as even the limited but key gains of recent years appeared at risk of rollback given statements by the new government,” it said.

It was a difficult year for Sri Lanka, Amnesty International South Asia Director Biraj Patnaik was quoted as saying in a statement.

“The tragic April bombings, which devastated hundreds of lives, led to the state adopting a heavy-handed security response that trumped people’s human rights,” he said.

“For the victims of Sri Lanka’s decades-long conflict, there was little progress on disappearances and no accountability for other crimes,” he added.

The Amnesty report came in the wake of a recent statement attributed to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that Sri Lanka will issue death certificates for those reported missing in the country’s civil war.

The President told United Nations Resident Coordinator Hanna Singer on January 18 that persons reported missing in the Sri Lankan government’s protracted war with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) are dead.

Amnesty International South Asia Researcher Thyagi Ruwanpathirana told EconomyNext that the presidential announcement was problematic.

Under international as well as domestic law, she said, Sri Lanka is obligated to provide families of missing persons with detailed information on the investigations into their kin’s alleged disappearances and inform them of their fate.

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“That obligation is the right to truth. When the president said that they would investigate and issue death certificates, it sounds like the death certificate is a foregone conclusion. That’s a problem. How did the president come to that conclusion if investigations are still taking place through the Office of Missing Persons (OMP)?” said Ruwanpathirana.

“Secondly, why issue a death certificate when there’s a certificate of absence that the previous government passed, which is something the families of the missing have also started to accept?” she added.

Ruwanpathirana said the certificate of absence had offered closure to the families allowing them to move on with their lives in terms of resolvingland disputes, remarriage, etc that were helped by the government-issued legal status for the missing.

Click here for Amnesty International’s full review of Sri Lanka.

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