War Victims testifying in Sri Lanka missions abroad ‘cannot happen’

An international human rights organization that has documented many cases of ongoing torture in Sri Lanka has cast doubt over the government’s sincerity in seeking the truth by requesting witness living abroad to testify in a government probe on war crimes.

While welcoming the Sri Lankan government’s recognition of exiled victims and witnesses in testifying to the country’s future transitional justice mechanisms, International Truth and justice Project (ITJP) warn that anyone with family in Sri Lanka fear reprisals if they can be identified while testifying about alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In diplomatic missions only

In an apparent bid to pacify international demands Sri Lanka’s cabinet of ministers has approved an amendment to its witness protection legislation allowing those living abroad to give evidence, without physically being present in courts.

However, the amendment to ‘Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses act’ proposed by Minister of Justice Wijayadasa Rajapakshe on 5 July, restricts the witness to giving evidence only at a Sri Lankan diplomatic mission in the respective country.

Command responsibility

The ITJP emphasises that some of the most important war crimes witnesses, who can identify perpetrators and those in command responsibility are living outside Sri Lanka.

“A credible witness protection process must allow victims to testify safely and anonymously and this cannot happen in a Sri Lankan diplomatic mission which risks them being identified by those who may be implicated themselves in the final phase of the war,” said Yasmin Sooka, executive director of ITJP in a statement from Johannesburg.

ITJP calls upon the Sri Lankan government to consider formally requesting courts abroad to gather evidence on behalf of what it calls the ‘hybrid court’ envisaged by the Sri Lankan government.

It believes that the Sri Lankan judicial system would benefit from such considerations.

No foreign judges’

However, Sri Lanka’s highest executive has categorically rejected foreign jurisdiction in any accountability mechanism.

“Though whatever views are expressed in various places regarding bringing of foreign judges and establishing of foreign military courts to take actions against the so called human rights violations during the period of war, I will not allow that as long as I am the president,” President Maithripala Sirisena told a Buddhist monk led gathering attended by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in the outskirts of Colombo on 8 July.

Constitutional provisions

A day after, addressing another Buddhist event in Kandy, President Sirisena slammed the ultra nationalist Sinhala weekly 'Irida Divaina' which reported on Sunday (10) that the proposed accountability mechanism will  also include foreign judges.

"As I have clearly stated in a previous event, I have never consented to bring foreign judges. Our constitution does not have any provision that would sanction bringing foreign judges into the country. To do so, we will have to amend the constitution and I would never agree to any such measure," he said.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.