CPA Comms Officer on 8 March, 2024

Does Sri Lanka Need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission? – A Comment on the Latest Proposal & Ground Realities

Categories: Discussion paperReportsResearch and Advocacy

This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of the end of the Civil War. Over the years, the government has introduced multiple Commissions of Inquiries (COIs), Presidential Commissions of Inquiries (PCOIs), a Consultation Task Force (CTF) and other institutions such as the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and the Office for Reparations (OR) under the pillars of truth and justice. However, such initiatives have failed due to the lack of political will of the government to truly address the demands of the victims, specifically in terms of not taking any legal action to prosecute alleged perpetrators and address impunity in Sri Lanka. Despite the numerous attempts at truth seeking in the country, the failure to implement recommendations of past COI’s, has resulted in a ‘commission fatigue’ and a culture of impunity, with little to no progress made towards accountability. In addition, efforts in the past also speak to missed opportunities at addressing the demands of the victims, and is a stark reminder of the multiple times successive governments have re-victimized and re-traumatised victims and affected communities in Sri Lanka. 

Under the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the state has once again initiated efforts in the interest of achieving truth, unity and reconciliation. Two legal developments have been introduced in the interest of achieving transitional justice. The first is in relation to the introduction of an Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, which was gazetted in September 2023 and enacted on 23rd January. The second is a proposal to introduce a Commission for Truth, Unity and Reconciliation (CTUR) in Sri Lanka, gazetted on the 1st of January 2024. The present paper examines issues surrounding the CTUR. 

In the statement published on the 9th of January, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) noted that both bills fail to address the concerns of victims, and raises concerns of whether they are genuine efforts implemented to achieve reconciliation. This is in context where the ground reality of Sri Lanka is currently inclusive of repressive laws such as the Online Safety Act that was recently passed, heightened ethno-nationalism and land appropriation. In addition, successive governments have addressed transitional justice only as a response to mounting international pressure and scrutiny, with domestic initiatives seen more as a token step and an attempt to appease the international community. 

While Sri Lanka’s responsibility to adopt transitional justice mechanisms directly stems from Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1, in March 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed resolution 46/1. This resolution introduced the “Sri Lanka Accountability Project”, whereby the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) received powers to “collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka”.  This resolution was followed by the passing of resolution 51/1 in October 2022 that reiterated concerns of past resolutions and recognised the link with human rights violations, economic crimes and impunity. In March and September 2024, the UNHRC will discuss Sri Lanka and examine the progress made on the implementation of these Resolutions. The proposal for the CTUR needs to be examined in such a context. 

Based on the ground reality in Sri Lanka and the lack of implementation of past recommendations by commissions implemented to address reconciliation, this paper requests the government to reconsider whether a CTUR is needed at the present time. To support this, this paper has been divided into three sections. The first section offers a brief overview of what the CTUR bill is. Second, the paper comments on specific sections that not only point to the flaws of the bill, but refer to repeated concerns and criticisms CPA has made in relation with previous state initiatives on reconciliation. Thirdly, CPA takes into account victim demands, drawing conclusions as to why this latest initiative fails to meet the demands of the victims. 


Click here to Read the Discussion Paper