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Sri Lanka: New Amnesty report reveals inability of Sri Lankan government to deliver justice

12 June, Geneva: Amnesty to host special panel event on Sri Lanka at UN Human Rights Council

The Sri Lankan government’s failure to deliver justice for serious human rights violations over the past 20 years has trapped the country in a vicious cycle of abuse and impunity, according to a new report published by Amnesty International today.

The report, ‘Twenty Years of Make-Believe: Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry’ , documents the failure of successive Sri Lankan governments to provide accountability for serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, killings, and torture.

The report is published as the country comes to terms with the end of a conflict which has cost thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. It assesses numerous internal ‘commissions of inquiry’ held over the last two decades in Sri Lanka which have failed to provide justice for victims of human rights abuses because of several critical failings including:

* the lack of witness protection, making people reluctant to give evidence;

* the failure to establish commissions of inquiry for several major atrocities; and weak, politicised outcomes in many of those that have gone ahead;

* commissions of inquiry are not required to publish their findings; the President has discretion over this.

Requests for an independent investigation into abuses committed during the recent military conflict have been brushed off, in spite of a 23 May joint statement by the Sri Lankan President and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stating that: “The Government will take measures to address those grievances”.

Ponnuthurai Yogarajah lost two sons in 2006. One was among a group of students shot and killed by Sri Lankan security forces in Trincomalee in January, and the other an aid worker who was among 17 people killed in Muttur months later. In March 2008 Ponnuthurai Yogarajah testified before a Presidential Commission of Inquiry using video conferencing from an undisclosed location outside Sri Lanka. He spoke of official misconduct, threats from the police and expressed doubt about the possibility of securing justice in Sri Lanka. Two months later, in May 2008, the Sri Lankan government ordered an end to the use of video conferencing in the Commission’s hearings.

Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system is subject to political pressure, lacks effective witness protection and is glacially slow. State agents have intervened directly in some cases to eliminate witnesses through bribes, threats, harassment, intimidation and violence, including murder, to discourage police investigations, and to mislead the public.

The system is so degraded that the vast majority of human rights violations over the past 20 years have never been investigated, let alone heard in court. Those that do make it to trial rarely conclude with a conviction; defendants are acquitted for want of evidence; witnesses refuse to testify; hearings are subject to repeated delays; even the prosecution has failed to appear in court in key human rights cases. This is not simply a problem of inadequate resources or institutional capacity; it is a problem of political will.

As an immediate priority, Amnesty International is calling for the establishment of an independent international commission to investigate allegations of serious violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law by both the Sri Lankan forces and the Tamil Tigers in the recent military hostilities.

To address the need for broader human rights protection and reform, Amnesty International also calls for the establishment of a UN human rights monitoring presence under the auspices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate reported abuses and assist Sri Lanka’s national institutions to deliver justice.

Amnesty International Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi said:

“The Sri Lankan authorities have had little success in providing accountability for abuses against civilians committed by the LTTE. They are even less likely to effectively investigate and prosecute their own forces for violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

“Given the scale of the problem of impunity in Sri Lanka, accountability can only be achieved with the active commitment of the Sri Lankan government, supported by systematic and sustained international human rights monitoring and technical assistance.”

Special panel event at UN Human Rights Council, Friday 12 June
Amnesty International is holding a public panel discussion on June 12 at a side event at the UN Human Rights Council session. The panel will be discussing the findings of the new Amnesty report in detail and include:
* Gene Dewey, a member of the last International Commission of Inquiry on Sri Lanka
* Dr Manoharan, whose son was killed in the ‘Trico 5’ incident, one of the high profile human rights cases where the family are still waiting for justice

Read the report: ‘ Twenty Years of Make-Believe’ /em> (PDF)

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