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‘Proof of change will come in how Sri Lanka treats most vulnerable victims’

The proof of change in Sri Lanka following the passing of a UN resolution this week, will come in how it treats survivors of sexual violence, wrote Nimmi Gowrinathan and Kate Cronin-Furman.

Writing in the Washington Post, they said “for the victim community, and their advocates,” the passing of the resolution is “not unambiguously cause for celebration”.
“Even as the members of the Council commended Sri Lanka’s government for re-engaging with the international community, domestic civil society groups and international rights activists challenged the vagueness of the resolution’s call for Sri Lanka to ensure a “credible justice process”,” they said.

“Sri Lanka has a long history of domestic commissions of inquiry that function as impressive political theatre but have limited capacity to provide redress. The acceptance of a (yet to be specified) role for international experts and the passage of a victims and witnesses protection act are encouraging signs that the new government intends to break with this tradition and embark upon a genuine transitional justice process. But the proof of a change will come in how Sri Lanka treats the most vulnerable victims of the long conflict – those who have survived sexual violence.”

The piece went on to state that “many Tamil victims of sexual violence (both male and female) have taken the risk of identifying themselves in order to demand justice”.
“In public spaces ranging from tiny village community centers to Geneva’s Palais des Nations, they have told their stories. They have done this out of a desire that the truth be known, but also out of faith that their testimony is a step on the path to justice. But after years of telling their stories to one audience after another, this faith is starting to fray. As one interviewee told us, “we have talked so much about it, and it just goes nowhere.””

They went on to stress that the absence of these safeguards for victims that testify “not only risks inflicting avoidable trauma on those testifying and knock-on destabilizing effects on their home communities; it could seriously hinder the work of the mechanism by disincentivizeing participation in the proceedings and inhibiting the quality of testimony of those who do chose to come forward”.

“For Tamil women, fatigued and frustrated by years of deficient institutional responses to their needs, the stakes of Thursday’s UNHRC resolution are high. For those who are victims of sexual violence, this is doubly true. Failure to ensure their meaningful participation in Sri Lanka’s transitional justice process will only further entrench the culture of impunity and derail progress towards peace and justice.”

See the full piece here.

Also see: Tamil women continue to face sexual violence in post-conflict Sri Lanka (02 Sep 2015)