Speaking on behalf of the Core Group, which includes the UK, Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, and Montenegro; Rita French, the UK International Ambassador, reiterate the group’s ‘profound disappointment’ over Sri Lanka’s withdraw from UN Resolution 30/1 and expressed scepticism over the ‘new domestic process’ for addressing issues of reconciliation.
In her statement she notes that whilst Sri Lanka has proposed “a new domestic process”, “previous such processes have, regrettably, proved insufficient to tackle impunity and deliver real reconciliation”.
The Core Group further noted that they would pay attention to how such an approach would differ from previous approaches and if it would “and put the victims of conflict at its heart”. They further raise “the future of the Independent Commissions including the Office for Missing Persons and Office for Reparations” as areas of critical importance.
The statement also raised concerns over the continued “intimidation, harassment and surveillance” of families of disappeared persons, civil society actors, and human rights groups. They note that individuals such as lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah are detained indefinitely without an appearance before court. This concern shared by multiple human rights groups. Sri Lanka’s dynamic and diverse civil society lies at the heart of its vibrant democracy. The Core Group has called on the government to “take all steps necessary to allow them [civil society actors and human rights defenders to operate freely]”.
Attacks on the Office of Missing Persons
This statement follows numerous attacks on the Office of Missing Persons by the Rajapaksa’s. During a speech, Mahinda Rajapaksa described the office as an “inquisitorial body that can issue summons, examine witnesses, and collect evidence”. He further stated that the OMP “can search without a warrant any armed forces installation, police station, or prison and take into their possession any document or thing they deem necessary”.
This description of the OMP, as a powerful “inquisitorial body”, is at odds with the views of international legal experts such as Yasmin Sooka, Executive Director of the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) who described the OMP as having “no teeth”.
Sooka maintains that the limited progress towards reconciliation has been stunted by the inability “to deal with criminal accountability”.
The ITJP has documented the names of at least 293 people who were seen surrendering to the Sri Lankan military and have seen been disappeared. Among those is Father Joseph, who was last seen boarding a Sri Lankan military bus with several LTTE cadres whose surrender he had facilitated.
"We have reached out to the OMP and said, "truth lies within your hands" you can subpoena the Sri Lanka commanders who were there on those days to find out about these victims’ whereabouts. They have failed to act," Sooka said.
Sooka has stated that “Impunity is now so deeply embedded that it’s impossible to talk of any kind of institutional reform".
Read the full statement here.