The current government has claimed to want reconciliation, while blocking all attempts at investigation and failing to acknowledge its own abuses. However, this does not mean that at some point more genuine reconciliation efforts through apologies and other measures would be impossible. In 2002 and 2004, former president Kumaratunga offered apologies for the anti-Tamil riots of 1983, which helped to spark the war, and called for reconciliation, referring to the riots as ‘one of the most shameful crimes ever perpetrated on this nation’. The 2004 apology was accompanied by the offer of compensation, which was rejected by the LTTE and vanished in the return to conflict.
Conflict, Accountability, and Rule of Law in Decline
Despite the range of accountability measures which occurred in the 1990s, it would be incorrect to say that Sri Lanka has experienced transitional or post-conflict justice - there was no regime change other than democratic electoral change of leadership, nor had the conflict ended when these measures were undertaken. It is notable, however, that these measures occurred alongside progressive degradation of human rights and rule of law. Even as the regime reinitiated negotiations with the LTTE and opened investigations and a number of trials, it engaged in a two- track strategy which also escalated the conflict, with a sharp rise in disappearances in 1996 and 1997 in Jaffna as a result of increased military operations. President Kumaratunga consolidated greater power through the imposition of emergency regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which involved roadblocks and routine harassment and imprisonment of citizens, as well as extrajudicial killing, torture, and disappearance of civilians, particularly Tamils. In 2003, Kumaratunga sparked a cabinet crisis by divesting the Information, Interior, and Defence ministers of their powers. Diplomatic efforts by both India and the United States to resolve the crisis failed, and the President dissolved
Parliament. She called new elections in April 2004 which brought her party back to power.
Disappearances in particular rose sharply after 2005, with Human Rights Watch reporting 1,500 civilian disappearances from 2005 to 2007 alone.49 The resumption of open hostilities in 2006 was accompanied by widespread attacks on civilians by both the government and the LTTE, and with the government’s support of the Karuna faction, which splintered from the LTTE, attacks on civilians were particularly brutal.50 Despite allegations of widespread torture, prosecutions for abuses by the security forces appear to have ended, there is no independent system to monitor or address violations, and thus security forces enjoy impunity.51 The Human Rights Commission and the National Police Commission, two bodies which are ostensibly autonomous and which would provide oversight, have had their independence undermined by unconstitutional moves by President Kumaratunga, and then President Rajapakse, to directly appoint commissioners.52 Despite receiving extensive communications, the Human Rights Commission ceased issuing public reports in 2006.53 In 2006, two senior members of the Judicial Service Commission, responsible for judges of the high court, resigned ‘as a matter of conscience’ while independent regional NGO the Asian Human Rights Commission denounced executive interference in the judiciary and independent commissions.54 Following an attempted assassination of the
- 49 Human Rights Watch, ‘Recurring Nightmare: State Responsibility for “Disappearances” and Abductions in Sri Lanka,’ (27 August 2008) at http://www.hrw.org (accessed 15 May 2012).
- 50 Human Rights Watch, ‘Recurring Nightmare.’ Karuna has since been made a government minister.
- 51 Human Rights Watch, ‘Recurring Nightmare.’
- 52 Human Rights Watch, ‘Recurring Nightmare.’
- 53 Human Rights Watch, ‘Recurring Nightmare.’
- 54 Asian Human Rights Commission, ‘Sri Lanka: Two Senior Judges Quit the Judicial Service Commission as a Matter of Conscience,’ (3 February 2006), at http:// www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/ (accessed 16 June 2011);Asian Human Rights Commission, ‘SRI LANKA: Sixth Day of Mourning Against Executive Interference into the Judiciary and Other Independent Institutions,’ (3 June 2006), at http://www .humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/ (accessed 16 June 2011).
minister of defence in 2006, emergency regulations were strengthened, allowing arrest without warrant and detention of civilians without charge for up to twelve months.55 The monitoring committee set up in 2007 on Abductions and Disappearances has not reported on its findings, and its head has resisted discussions of disappearances in the country, claiming that Sri Lanka was unfairly being singled out. President Rajapakse has referred to disappearance figures as inaccurate and ‘just numbers’, claiming that these are simply people who have ‘gone [on] their honeymoon without the knowledge of their household.’56 The country has also failed to implement recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee or of the Committee Against Torture, drawing further criticism.57 Widespread impunity for police torture was cited by some as an indicator of the decline of the rule of law.58
In October 2010, the eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was passed, eliminating restrictions on term limits of the President and replacing a constitutional council with a parliamentary council over which the president would exercise control. The constitutional council’s powers, over independent commissions on bribery, police, elections, and the judiciary, were transferred to the executive presidency. This further weakened the independence of the Human Rights Commission, to which Rajapakse appointed a former inspector general of the police and a former government analyst in 2011.59
- 55 United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Human Rights Country Reports Sri Lanka 2006 at www.state.gov (accessed 15 May 2012).
- 56 Human Rights Watch, ‘Recurring Nightmare.’
- 57 Human Rights Solidarity, ‘UNHR Council/Sri Lanka: Refusing to Implement Human Rights Committee Recommendations,’ (2006), at http://www.hrsolidarity.net/ (accessed 16 June 2011).
- 58 Sofie Rordam, ‘SRI LANKA: Police Torture as an Indicator of the Constitutional Degradation of the Rule of Law,’ (12 January 2011), at http://www.humanrights.asia/ news/ahrc-news/ (accessed 16 June 2011).
- 59 Ashley LS Perera, ‘18th Amendment to the Constitution: A Critique,’ Sri Lanka Guardian, (11 October 2010), at http://www.srilankaguardian.org (accessed 16 June 2011);Asian Human Rights Commission, ‘SRI LANKA: Friday Forum Deeply Concerned about Recent Appointments to Human Rights Commission,’ (15 June 2011), at http://www.humanrights.asia/news (accessed 16 June 2011);Joseph Perera, ‘Sri Lanka
-  Krishan Francis, ‘Sri Lankan President Regrets Anti-Tamil Riots that Started CivilWar,’ Associated Press (23 July 2004).
-  International Crisis Group, ‘Reconciliation in Sri Lanka,’ p. 5.
-  Human Rights Watch, ‘Recurring Nightmare.’
-  Jayewardena, Still Seeking Justice in Sri Lanka, pp. 12-41;Kishali Pinto-Jayewardena,The Rule of Law in Decline: Study on Prevalence, Determinants, and Causes of Tortureand Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in SriLanka (Copenhagen: Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims, 2009);Chandra Lekha Sriram, Confronting Past Human Rights Violations (London: FrankCass, 2004), pp. 171-201.