Amnesty International has accused the Sri Lankan government of trapping the country in a vicious cycle of abuse and impunity. A new report published on Thursday by the organization details the Sri Lankan government’s failure to deliver justice for serious human rights violations over the past twenty years.

“Twenty Years of Make-Believe: Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry”, documents the failure of successive Sri Lankan governments to provide accountability for violations, including enforced disappearances, killings, and torture.

Since 1991, the Sri Lankan government has formed nine ad hoc Commissions of Inquiry to investigate enforced disappearances and a number of other human rights-related inquiries.

These commissions of inquiry have lacked credibility and have delayed criminal investigations, according to Amnesty International, who accused the government of failing to protect victims and witnesses. While most, if not all, of these Commissions of Inquiry identified alleged perpetrators, very few prosecutions for human rights violations have resulted. From the outbreak of anti-Tamil rioting in July 1983, which led to full-scale armed conflict between the state and the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE), increasing numbers of people were victims of gross human rights violations in Sri Lanka. By the late 1980s, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions had reached vast proportions.

These violations occurred in the context of two major conflicts in the country: the government’s war with the LTTE in the north and east of the country, and a second confrontation between government forces and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front, JVP), a southern-based Sinhalese party that sought to overthrow the government.

By 1991, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances had received almost 15,000 reports of enforced disappearances and had transmitted 4,932 cases to the government of Sri Lanka.

President Ranasinghe Premadasa created Sri Lanka’s first Commission of Inquiry into “involuntary removals of persons” in January 1991. Its mandate was extremely limited, dealing only with new enforced disappearances that occurred after the establishment of the CoI (the vast majority of Sri Lanka’s tens of thousands of reported enforced disappearances from the period occurred between 1988 and 1990).

Since 1991, there have been nine Commissions of Inquiry to investigate enforced disappearances and a number of other human rights-related inquiries. While most, if not all, of these Commissions of Inquiry identified alleged perpetrators, very few prosecutions for human rights violations have resulted.

The Sri Lankan government has brushed off requests for an independent investigation into violations in the context of the recent military conflict, in spite of a 23 May joint statement by the Sri Lankan President and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stating that: “The Government will take measures to address those grievances”.

“There is strong ground to question the Sri Lankan government’s sincerity about its most recent promise to provide accountability for the war crimes and human rights violations that occurred in the past few months, given the extremely poor track record documented in Amnesty International’s most recent report,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director.

Amnesty International has called on the government to use the opportunity created by the end of military operations against the LTTE to provide accountability for serious violations and abuses committed by both sides during the last months of fighting which cost thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

“As the Sri Lankan people contend with the most recent abuses committed by both sides of the recent conflict, particularly during the last few months of the fighting, the reality is that they have been haunted by injustice and impunity for years,” said Sam Zarifi.

“If communities that have been torn apart by decades of violence and impunity are to be reconciled, the Sri Lankan government should initiate internal reforms and seek international assistance to prevent ongoing violations and ensure real accountability for past abuses.”

As an immediate priority, Amnesty International is calling for the establishment of an independent international commission to investigate allegations of serious violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law by both the Sri Lankan forces and the Tamil Tigers in the recent military hostilities.

“The Sri Lankan authorities have had little success in providing accountability for abuses against civilians committed by the LTTE; they are even less likely to effectively investigate and prosecute their own forces for violations of human rights and humanitarian law,” Sam Zarifi said.

“Given the scale of the problem of impunity in Sri Lanka, accountability can only be achieved with the active commitment of the Sri Lankan government, supported by systematic and sustained international human rights monitoring and technical assistance.”

To address the need for broader human rights protection and reform, Amnesty International has called for the establishment of a UN human rights monitoring presence under the auspices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate reported abuses and assist Sri Lanka’s national institutions to deliver justice.

Amnesty International is holding a public panel discussion on Friday at a side event at the UN Human Rights Council session. The panel will be discussing the finding of the report in detail and include:

* Gene Dewey, a member of the last International Commission of Inquiry on Sri Lanka
* Dr Manoharan, whose son was killed in the ‘Trico 5’ incident, one of the high profile human rights cases where the family are still waiting for justice.