Pic by Mayantha Perera
  • Critical of slow process

  • PM assures legislation for Truth Commission and to set up Special Prosecutor’s Office

  • Foreign Ministry to work with Emmerson’s team on Counter Terrorism legislation

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, who was in the country last week expressed his concern over the slow progress in achieving key goals set out in the UN resolution.

The Special Rapporteur in a statement to the media on Friday (14) while stating there were slight indications of positive movements added that these indications fell far short of the country’s international commitment.

“Yet, two years on, and already four months into a two-year extension granted to the Government by the Human Rights Council, progress in achieving the key goals set out in the Resolution is not only slow, but seems to have ground to a virtual halt,” he said.
He said that none of the measures so far adopted to fulfill Sri Lanka’s transitional justice commitments are adequate to ensure real progress.

However, in his statement, the Special Rapporteur said he was given a personal assurance by the Prime Minister that once the current process of counter-terrorism reform had been completed, the Government would pass legislation paving the way for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be established, and set up an Office of the Special Prosecutor to bring criminal charges against those involved in the most serious atrocities committed on both sides of the conflict.

“These are, of course, steps which the Government promised to the international community that it would have delivered in full by now,” he had said.

Meanwhile, he also noted the Chief of the Army, Mahesh Senanayake had made a public commitment to ensure that members of the armed forces who had committed crimes would be brought to justice.

Emmerson was assured by the Attorney General that if and when criminal allegations against the military finally reach his office, they will be prosecuted with the full force of the law.

The statement also noted that the Special Rapporteur was encouraged by the Government’s recent adoption of a ‘zero tolerance policy’ towards the use of torture; and by the appointment in July 2016 of a Committee to Eradicate Torture by the Plice.
Emmerson however noted the lack of effective investigations into allegations of torture.
Emerson also visited New Magazine Prison in Colombo and the prison in Anuradhapura, and was given an opportunity to meet privately with detainees accused under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, as well as to observe the conditions in which some of them were detained.

Emmerson said that during his interviews with current and former PTA detainees, he had heard distressing stories of extremely brutal methods of torture,

In a number of instances brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur, these allegations had either been supported by independent medical evidence, or accepted by the judiciary as the basis for excluding a confession at trial.

The Minister for Law and Order had meanwhile informed the Special Rapporteur that steps were underway to avoid any new arrests under the PTA, and to use the regular criminal law wherever possible. “That too, is to be welcomed,” he said.

In addition, in an effort to expedite the process of identifying shortcomings in the current draft of the Counter Terrorism legislation and seek remedies to such representatives of the Foreign Affairs Ministry are scheduled to consult Emmerson’s team within the next two weeks.

“I am pleased to be able to announce today that the Government has undertaken to engage in a process of constructive dialogue with my mandate in an effort to improve the draft legislation before it is placed before Parliament,” he said.

Emmerson was reported to have been involved in a heated argument with Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, when they met earlier in the week. The argument was reportedly on the UN intervention on promotion and protection of human rights.

Rajapakse had reportedly questioned Emmerson which was followed by an unprecedented argument.

Emmerson however refused to comment on the incident when queried at Friday’s press briefing.

In addition, Emmerson’s scheduled meeting with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on Thursday was also called off as he had not turned up.