Colombo, Human Rights, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War, Reconciliation

Human rights: Hackneyed or heightened in post-war Sri Lanka?

My conversation with Lakshan Dias, Programme Manager, Centre for Human Rights and Development, was pegged to the issue of human rights in post-war Sri Lanka. Lakshan was in the news recently when he appeared for Sarah Malanie Perera, an author taken in custody over bizarre circumstances. While we touched on this specific case, the interview also looked at broader legislation that undermined human rights in Sri Lanka post-war. I also got Lakshan’s take on the government’s repeated assertion that continued vigilance is vital to thwart any re-emergence of the LTTE, on account of which anti-terrorism legislation is justified even post-war.

We talked about the awareness of human rights amongst the general public, and as Lakshan noted, the polarisation of the Sinhala and Tamil communities over human rights issues.

Lakshan stressed the need for reconciliation, trust building and healing post-war, processes he noted that could not be addressed through a national security mindset. Lakshan warned that lack of public confidence – even in the South – over this government’s measures to look into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity was the result of many other commissions of inquiry that in the past had virtually no meaningful impact on reparations, restitution and healing.

  • justitia

    Today’s news reports an apology in court by former OiC Bambalapitiya Upul Seneviratne found guilty by Justice Shirani Tilakawardene for abusing Chandrai Bandarta who with Rosy Senanayake was taking part in a peaceful civil protest on June 6 2006 against the increased price of petrol.The most disturbing aspect is that this man was ‘garlanded’ by WP Governer Alavi Maulana and MP MHM Azver for his action.
    The police officer is still in service and the two politicians even now hold their respective political appointments.
    So, whither Human Rights in Sri Lanka?

  • justitia

    Another case highlighted today of SSP Vass Gunawardena who along with his wife,son & other police officers, assaulted Nipuna Ramanayake, has not attended court,last on June 1st in the human rights case filed against him.The court appears helpless in ensuring his attendance. The IGP appretly is powerless.How do courts uphold Human Rights in these instances?
    Is this not a farce?

  • Gunalan

    Here what Sri Lankan Government is afraid of 🙂

    But to me…. it sounds very reasonable…..


    Here are the 15 conditions spelt out by the European Commission for renewal of GSP+

    1. Reduction of the number of derogations to the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).

    2. Take steps to ensure that the key objective of the 17th Amendment to Constitution, namely to provide for independent impartial appointments to key public positions, is fully safeguarded, including through Constitutional Council which adequately reflect the interest of all political, ethic and religious groups and minorities within Sri Lankan society.

    3. Repeal the remaining part of the 2005 Emergency regulations, notably those Regulations concerning detention without trial, restrictions on freedom of movement, ouster of jurisdiction and immunity and repeal of the 2006 Emergency Regulations (Gazette No 1474/5/2006). If GoSL considers that it is essential to retain certain provisions which are compatible with the ICCPR or UNCAT, such as provisions concerning possession of weapons, such provisions should be transferred to the Criminal Code.

    4. Repeal of those sections of the Prevention of Terrorism Act which are incompatible with the ICCPR (in particular sections 9,10, 11, 14, 15, 16 and 26) or amendment so as to make them clearly compatible with the ICCPR.

    5. Repeal of the ouster clause in section 8 and the immunity clause in section 9 of the Public Security Ordinance or amendment so as to make them clearly compatible with the ICCPR.

    6. Adoption of the planned amendments to the code of Criminal Procedure, which provide for the right of a suspect to see a lawyer immediately following arrest.

    7. Legislative steps necessary to allow individuals to submit complaints to the UN Human Rights Commission under the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR and to the UN Committee against Torture under Article 22.

    8. Steps to implement outstanding opinions of the UN Human Rights Committee in individual cases.

    9. Extension of an invitation to the following UN Special Procedures who have requested to visit Sri Lanka (UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, UN Special Rapporteur pn Torture, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers).

    10. Responses to a significant number of individual cases currently pending before the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.

    11. Publication of the complete final report of the 2008 Commission of Enquiry.

    12. Publication or making available to family members a list of the former LTTE combatants currently held in detention as well as all other persons detained under the Emergency Regulations. Decisive steps to bring to an end the detention of any persons held under the Emergency Regulations either by releasing them or by bringing them to trial.

    13. Granting of access to all places of detention for monitoring purposes to an independent humanitarian organization, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.

    14. Adoption of the National Human Rights Action Plan by Parliament and its prompt implementation.

    15. Take steps to ensure journalists can exercise their professional duties without harassment.

  • Sarath Fernando

    Thank you Gunalan. It is unfortunate that even teh educated, high officials such as GIP wnats to bury these fair and necessary conditions towards civilized, democratic behaviour by up-playing the patriotic card meant to fool the masses. Does not auger well for the long-term interest of the country.

  • longus


    May be it’s pretty reasonable to you,if you were born to be a worm. What business have these ex-colonists and bandits got to dictate terms to us as how to solve our problems and blackmail us like a notorious street thug?

    That’s why Sri Lanka rejected this grant

    Have we ever asked them to abolish their monarchy?

  • Arunan

    Hi Lakshan, Yiu are the man…I’ve read some of your writings in the past, never seen in person. Good interview and observations. Thank you both.

  • justitia

    All these conditions demanded by EU represent the many requirements of social justice for sri lankans.

    Lakshan Dias speaks of the many dud commissions, abductions,
    disappearances, killings etc. Are you not horrified that these go on even now.

    The monarchy in the United Kingdom is a respected and revered institution as the font of social justice. The monarch reigns, but does not rule. The monarch is all powerful as it denies power to those who would misuse it. The monarch appoints the ministers and the judiciary.
    Britons, on special occasions, toast the Queen. They do not toast any politician.

  • longus


    Not only the Britons,people like you too,may be toasting to your Queen! According to many Britons the British tax payers pay millions of their hard earned money to maintain this snobbish institution. We should be able to advice them on this!

    The Monarchy is not corrupt? My foot!

  • The interview Sanjana has had with Lakshan brought into focus many issues relating to human rights in the country today. But what was not discussed is how one could protect or promote human rights in a country where the rulers do not have the will to do so. The war which gave them the excuse to ignore critics is not there any more. If the threat of a resurgence of the LTTE or a Tamil rebellion is the excuse now, then Sri Lanka will have to continue with the Emergency Regulations and the PTA for ever. These two pieces of legislation are the tools that enable the government and its agents to care tuppence for the human rights of the people and ignore all pleas in this regard. That the government has no will to promote or protect human rights was confirmed by the eleven International Independent Group of Eminent Persons who had been invited by the President himself in 2007 to ensure that the Commission of Inquiry into Serious Human Rights Violations conforms to human rights norms and standards in the conduct of their proceedings. Being frustrated in their efforts to make that Commission conform to human rights norms and standards they aborted their mission in 2008 and left remarking in their report to the President that the government does not have the will to promote or protect human rights.

    Even after that the government continued to ignore human rights and democratic practices before the war, during the war and even after the war. The upshot of this, is the list of 15 items referred to by the EU countries as matters the government should deal with if they are to continue to have the GSP+ facility. The EU countries may not be saints but the fact remains that the items mentioned by them are in fact serious issues relating to the human rights situation in the country.
    What the government has done on receipt of these conditions is to talk of sovereignty of Sri Lanka and that no one can dictate terms to the Government etc. That is the usual stuff they use like calling all critics of the state traitors, supporters of the tigers and so on.
    As Gunalan said the conditions stipulated are reasonable and most of them had already been highlighted both in the parliament and by other concerned persons. Only persons who are unable to understand the seriousness of the issues keep slandering the EU for drawing the attention of the government to these matters as they have nothing else to say with regard to the conditions set out. I hold no brief for the EU states but I certainly feel the government has to take serious note of the matters referred to. That they will not do because they still do not have the will promote or protect human rights in our country. All that they want is to do whatever possible to strengthen their authority and continue to rule the country by hook or by crook. To hell with human rights !

  • Thanka

    First we must have humans in Sri Lanka for one to discuss about Human Rights. There are only two categories of living beings in Sri Lanka, lions the rulers and the worms ruled.

  • Realist

    Dear [Edited out] Gunalan and others:

    The govt has not said they will not fulfill any one of the 15 conditions. All they have said is that they cannot fulfill some of them before the 6 month period is out – something any sane and thinking person should be able to figure out on their own. In case you are unable, here is a fairly balanced perspective from someone IN the EU:

  • ordinary lankan

    Good interview – thanks to both.

    Although Lakshan said that people understand human rights – it is very clear in our polarised society that they are only seeing all rights from their own perspective.

    This means that they do not understand human rights. Without a human rights consciousness there cannot be an understanding of what they mean.

    There are structural issues like caste – in addition to the more visible divisions that have prevented social equality from becoming a reality in any form yet.

    Human rights gets distorted on this flawed foundation. It has only become an additional remedy for people to resolve their problems without getting into the root causes of those problems.

    HR Advocates must review their educational strategies and pay more attention to relationship based approaches – and this brings in the social, cultural and spiritual dimensions.

    May be GV can interview someone like Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardena who has a very good take ab the direction of human rights work in SL. He has published a sinhala book recently called Puravasi manpeth.

  • ordinary lankan

    The phrase ‘human rights’ is simply jargon without a meaning in this country. It is a phrase of convenience than something employed with meaning. It highlights the fact that we are yet to find the appropriate language to discuss human problems.

    Human Rights in SL, is an absent phenomenon and it is not useful to speak about something that cannot be observed in real life. There is a narrow ‘rights consciousness’ which is very much the same that was seen during the British Period when locals became highly competitive and litigious in the scramble for power, money, status and ‘justice’ which in many cases was simply revenge.

    We must examine ‘what is’ and understand the structures that support narrow justice in Sri Lanka. Among these structures adversarial justice in general and criminal justice in particular are powerful forces that shape and mould the consciousness of the ordinary man.
    The divisions in society in 1948, 1956, 1977 and 2009 should be studied to see the continuities, discontinuities and anti-structural tendencies.

    The conservatism of politicians and government servants and the materialism of the private sector has shaped our values and the consensus that supports it. In between these two has emerged a ‘third force’ which has no permanent allegiances and seeks to develop a civil society discourse. But they are also trapped – see below.

    One of the conclusions that can be drawn is that the justice that we seek can no longer be found within the traditional framework of the law and the institutional structure built around that.

    For this our language has to cut across the public private divide and move into the deep personal, social and spiritual realms. Right now we are imprisoned within what I would call ‘public speak’.

    Lacking a secure personal realm – lacking happy and solid personal relationships our public realm has crumbled. As it is the public realm is simply a matter of washing dirty linen in public. There is no authenticity, conviction or compassion. Just a pretence of learning, of engagement and a deep anxiety about problems out there which are only reflections of the absence of self-knowledge.

    We are bound to get entangled in lies
    Until we make truth our sole vocation