The Sri Lankan government in 2012 continued its assault on democratic space and failed to take any meaningful steps towards providing accountability for war crimes committed by either side during the internal armed conflict that ended in 2009.
The government targeted civil society through threats, surveillance, and clampdowns on activities and free speech. Statements by government officials and government-controlled media named and threatened human rights defenders who called for accountability for wartime abuses or criticized other government policies. Local activists expressed deep concern about the security of their staff and the people they assist.
Overly broad detention powers remained in place under various laws and regulations. Several thousand people continued to be detained without charge or trial. State security forces committed arbitrary arrests and torture against ethnic minority Tamils, including repatriated Sri Lankan nationals allegedly linked to the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Tamil population in the north benefited from humanitarian groups having greater access to the area, but the government did not take adequate steps to normalize their living conditions.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers continued to accumulate power at the expense of democratic institutions. Calls to restore the independence of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and other government commissions that Rajapaksa marginalized via the Eighteenth Amendment to the constitution, which passed in 2010, went unheeded.
Sri Lanka made no progress in 2012 toward ensuring justice for the victims of numerous violations of human rights and the laws of war committed by both sides during the 26-year-long conflict between the government and the LTTE. These violations include the government’s indiscriminate shelling of civilians and the LTTE’s use of civilians as “human shields” in the final months of the conflict, which ended in May 2009.
The government continued to ignore the 2011 report of the panel of experts appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which recommended establishing an independent international mechanism to monitor the government’s implementation of the panel recommendations, conduct an independent investigation, and collect and safeguard evidence.
In March 2012, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution finding that the government’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) did not dequately address serious allegations of violations of international law, and called on Sri Lanka to take all necessary steps to ensure justice and accountability. It requested that the government expeditiously present a comprehensive plan detailing the steps it had taken to implement the LLRC’s recommendations and to address accountability.
The Sri Lankan government responded by publicly threatening human rights defenders who had advocated for the resolution. In July, the government announced that it had adopted an action plan to implement LLRC recommendations. The plan vaguely calls for the government to look into civilian deaths and prosecute any wrongdoers. It sets out a 12-month timeframe to conclude disciplinary inquiries and 24 months for prosecutions. But the government proposal merely leaves responsibility for investigations with the military and police, the entities responsible for the abuses, using processes lacking in transparency.
There has been no information regarding actions of the special army courts of inquiry, supposedly established in 2012 to look into allegations of war crimes. Despite strong evidence that government forces were involved in the execution style slayings of 17 aid workers and 5 students in separate incidents in 2006, no one was arrested for the crimes. Other recommendations, such as the need to restore the independence of the police and remove them from the purview of the Ministry of Defence, were tasked to parliamentary select committees that had yet to be established at this writing.