IMPUNITY AND TRUST: TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE IN SRI LANKA
In the post war context, Sri Lanka government has announced that it will facilitate a robust Transitional Justice process. As announced by the Foreign Minister, the mechanisms will guarantee truth seeking, provide reparation to those affected by the war and conflict, facilitate non-recurrence and assist in accountability.
One of the major challenges we human rights defenders faced over the past decade is the continuing and strengthening of the culture of impunity that prevailed in Sri Lanka. Violence perpetrated by political and security forces persons went unpunished. One of the major challenges we are facing in Sri Lanka is the failure to take action against perpetrators in spite of the existence of laws. In this regard torture though prohibited in law is a tool regularly used by all categories of the security forces. The Prevention of Terrorism Act provides the security forces and police to detain suspects for a prolonged period which has resulted in the use of torture to get evidence and commit degrading action against the victim. The majority of Tamil men and women survivors have revealed barbaric acts of torture including rape and sexual harassment. We are talking about transitional justice in such an environment. Victims and witnesses have repeatedly shown that they have no faith and confidence in national institutions. Even though the political leadership has changed they have failed to build a healthy environment to combat impunity.
The transitional justice process in Sri Lanka has to go beyond purely providing mechanisms to those affected.
Let me focus on the issue of violence against women. Often transitional justice advocacy will solely focus on addressing the issue of accountability more legalistically. Similarly when we are dealing with torture it is important to remember that a woman can be tortured without leaving marks on her body. In a war it is important to analyse the totality of the experience of women who has continued to be displaced, marginalised and forced to experience further acts of violence. Sri Lanka has to sign the optional protocol to the Convention Against Torture and provide a political environment of trust building if its commitment to TJ to become real to affected communities.
Nimalka Fernando is a prominent human rights defender, peace activist and lawyer from Sri Lanka.