Sri Lanka

Visit to Sri Lanka – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence (A/HRC/45/45/Add.1)


Human Rights Council
Forty-fifth session
14 September–2 October 2020
Agenda item 3
Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development


In the present report, the former Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, examines the progress made in implementing transitional justice measures in Sri Lanka following the 25- year conflict that ended in May 2009.
In the report, the Special Rapporteur acknowledges the capacities developed by civil society and parts of the Government in addressing transitional justice issues and notes the progress made in some areas, including the establishment of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms, the creation of the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations and the opening up of space for discussion about transitional justice. Despite the opportunities for genuine change and reform, the Special Rapporteur notes the Government’s failure to adopt and implement a comprehensive transitional justice policy with the four constitutive elements of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. Progress has been hindered by a lack of commitment on the part of the Government. As a result, Sri Lanka appears to have missed an historic opportunity to provide lessons to the world about how sustainable peace ought to be achieved.
The Special Rapporteur concludes with recommendations addressed to the Government concerning confidence-building measures, truth-seeking mechanisms, accountability, reparation programmes and guarantees of non-recurrence.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence on his visit to Sri Lanka

I. Introduction

  1. In his capacity as Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff visited Sri Lanka from 10 to 23 October 2017, at the invitation of the Government, to review the progress made by the Government in the areas of truth-seeking, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence and to advise the authorities and Sri Lankan society on efforts to provide redress for past massive gross violations and abuses.
  2. The Special Rapporteur had previously conducted four other trips to Sri Lanka, at the invitation of the Government, to provide advisory services, during the course of which he was able to follow the developments since March 2015.
  3. While cognizant of the ongoing human rights situation in Sri Lanka and the political and security developments since his 2017 visit (the Kandy incidents in February 2018, the dissolution of the Government coalition following the political events of October 2018, the barbaric terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday 2019 and the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency), in the present report the Special Rapporteur focuses mainly on assessing the progress made in the implementation of transitional justice measures since his first visit in March 2015.
  4. The five invitations to visit the country demonstrate the willingness of the Government to engage in a constructive dialogue, for which the Special Rapporteur expresses appreciation. He also thanks the United Nations country team, its successive Resident Coordinators and the Senior Human Rights Adviser and his team for supporting the visits.
  5. In Colombo, the Special Rapporteur had the honour of being received by the President, Maithripala Sirisena, and the Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe. He also met other high-level government officials, including the ministers responsible for foreign affairs, finance, the media, law and order, southern development, national coexistence, dialogue, official languages, prison reform, rehabilitation, resettlement, Hindu religious affairs, justice and education. In addition, he met the Secretary to the President, the Secretary of Defence, the Speaker of Parliament, representatives of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Legal Affairs and the Media and of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on Reconciliation and North and East Reconstruction, the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Commander of the Army, the Commander of the Air Force, the Commander of the Navy, the Chief of National Intelligence, the Inspector General of Police, the Chair of the Victim and Witness Protection Authority, the Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms, the Director-General of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, representatives of the Human Rights Commission, the National Police Commission, the diplomatic community, academia, civil society organizations and victims’ groups, members of religious communities and political parties and many others. At the local level, he exchanged views with the Governors of the Northern Province and the Eastern Province.
  6. The Special Rapporteur travelled extensively throughout the country. He held discussions in Aluthgama, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Matara, Mullaitivu, Puttalam and Trincomalee and visited locations emblematic for being sites of violations and abuses, memorialization and land disputes. He met with numerous victims and members of their families, some of whom had travelled from afar. The Special Rapporteur expresses deep gratitude to victims from all communities who, yet again, shared recollections of very painful experiences of violations and abuse, most of which remain unredressed. Together with other members of civil society, they have kept transitional justice issues alive through the peaks and troughs of what remains an unfinished process. Their persistence in the face of often incomprehensible difficulties and lack of attention is admirable and inspirational.
  7. In November 2017, the Special Rapporteur shared his preliminary findings1 and was encouraged, at the time, by the willingness of some government officials to cooperate and acknowledge that more concerted action was needed. Since then, despite the establishment of the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations, the Government of Sri Lanka has not moved towards a genuine comprehensive transitional justice policy, nor has it taken ownership of the aspiration to do so. It would be a serious mistake to use the tragic events of 2019 as an excuse to sidestep issues of accountability and redress, let alone to backtrack on hard-won gains. The present report was sent to the Government for comments on 28 August 2019 and was finalized on 24 January 2020.