“The Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons: Trends, Practices and Implications” by CPA

The present critique by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) captures key issues and trends observed during public sittings of the Commission and the perceptions of affected communities and civil society who have observed and engaged with the present process. At the very outset CPA notes that the Commission, operating under the Commissions of Inquiry apparatus, is structurally flawed, given its dependence on the Executive for appointments, financing and follow up action. Having observed a string of failed State initiatives at transitional justice in recent years and the lack of progress with past Commissions appointed by successive governments, CPA calls for immediate steps to be taken for legal and policy reform that provides for a genuine and credible domestic process at truth seeking, justice and accountability. Failure in this regard further confirms the inability of domestic processes to address grievances in a post war context and strengthens calls for international investigations.

Access the full document here – http://www.cpalanka.org/the-presidential-commission-to-inv…/

“Engaging with Civil Society” by Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Civil society is not a monolith and most certainly should not be. However, at the same time it is vital that those who profess to be like-minded on issues of human rights, reconciliation and governance, hold true to the principles underpinning them. Engagement or non-engagement is a choice to be made by each organization, critically though on the basis of a common understanding of these principles and the need to uphold them at all times to the best of one’s ability. It is also about conveying this unequivocally in engagement.

via: http://groundviews.org/2014/09/16/engaging-with-civil-society/

“Joint Civil Society Memorandum to the Human Rights Council and the International Community” by CPA

“We recognize the framework agreed upon in resolutions 21/1 HRC (2012) and 22/1 HRC 2013 supporting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka and efforts made by member states calling on the Sri Lankan government to address grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed before, during and after the war which ended in May 2009. We recognize too the efforts of member states calling on the Sri Lankan government to address continuing violation of human rights and democratic norms in Sri Lanka.

Despite the failure of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to deal adequately with issues of accountability, civil society broadly agreed to cooperate with the Sri Lankan government in the implementation of the main LLRC recommendations. However, the government has not engaged in meaningful dialogue with civil society, opposition political parties and the international community in the implementation of LLRC recommendations. Moreover, the National Action Plan (NAP) conceived by the Sri Lankan government in July 2012 for this purpose, glosses over the most important issues of the LLRC, diluting its recommendations, considerably.

In our opinion, the Sri Lankan government continues to procrastinate over the implementation of key LLRC recommendations and instead, showcases ostensible progress on the NAP. The latter totally ignores the call for the setting up of an effective national mechanism to address accountability issues. Accordingly, we affirm the reports released by prominent Sri Lankan think tanks and civil society organisations such as the Centre for Policy Alternatives, which highlight the failure and shortcoming of the Sri Lankan government in the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.”

Read & download the full statement here –http://www.cpalanka.org/joint-civil-society-memorandum-to-the-human-rights-council-and-the-international-community/

source: www.cpalanka.org

“Global call for the protection of civil society in Sri Lanka” by Centre for Policy Alternatives

Over 100 activists from 50 countries meeting in Johannesburg during International Civil Society Week are deeply concerned by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakshe’s statement at the inauguration of the Commonwealth Peoples Forum in Colombo:

“While diversity of opinion is natural in civil society, it is important that one basic quality should underpin the work and the thinking of all civil society organizations. This quality without doubt should be feeling for one’s motherland and commitment to her well-being. The stature and territorial integrity of the country is the crucial consideration.”

We are concerned at the implied criticism and threat in the statement. We believe it is a sacred patriotic duty for collectives and every individual to draw attention to wrong doing, call for accountability and for governments to support and join in this endeavour, accept dissent and critique, and protect the rights of individuals and collectives who use the rule of law and call upon conscience to right those wrongs.

Read the full press release here – http://www.cpalanka.org/global-call-for-the-protection-of-civil-society-in-sri-lanka/

source: CPA

“Shocking Threats to Civil Society in Sri Lanka – says New Report” (civicus.org)

A new report finds shocking threats to civil society in Sri Lanka, amidst growing protests about the Commonwealth’s decision to host its Summit there despite strong criticism of the country’s human rights abuses.

Based on interviews with a diverse range of civil society leaders and research on the conditions affecting citizen participation, CIVICUS and the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Sri Lanka (CPA), document a litany of threats to civil society in Sri Lanka.

Via http://civicus.org/media-centre-129/press-releases/1935-shocking-threats-to-civil-society-in-sri-lanka-says-new-report

source: http://civicus.org

“Remembering Sunila, honouring women’s human rights defenders” by Charlotte Bunch

You could find here a link to read an article where Charlotte Bunch pays tribute to Sunila Abeysekera (1952-2013), a courageous feminist and human rights advocate within Sri Lanka, and a leader in South Asia and globally.

via: Tribute to Sunila by Charlotte Bunch

source: www.opendemocracy.net

Civil society as a space for dissent in Sri Lanka by Nilanjana Premaratna (insightonconflict.org)

In Sri Lanka is civil society being silenced as freedom of expression is restricted? Nilanjana Premaratna, Insight on Conflict’s local correspondent for Sri Lanka, looks at the issue and interviews prominent activist Sanjana Hattotuwa.

There is a widespread backlash against journalists and human rights activists in Sri Lanka

Along with international pressure that was brought upon Sri Lanka with the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution urging investigations into alleged war crimes, there is a widespread backlash against journalists and human rights activists in the country. In an interview with us from March this year, Sanjana Hattotuwa, a peace activist, raised a point that resonated with the Sri Lankan context at the moment: the restricted space for the freedom of expression, the lack of space for dissent.(Note: in the video, Sanjana’s references are to March 2012 sessions of the Human Rights Council in Geneva).

Silencing Sri Lankan civil society

Excluding and attempting to silence these alternative voices only result in an increased tension

Freedom for expression – the freedom for voicing dissent through non-violent means – is indeed the foundation of democracy. It is what holds a democracy together, ensuring that it is a people’s government. This space for multiple voices is what sets a democracy apart from a dictatorship or a monarchy that is run according to the wishes of a privileged few. When this space for expression or dissent is absent – or more accurately, actively discouraged or threatened within a country – it automatically raises questions on its democratic allegations.Sanjana comments on the ‘hate speech’ that is virulent in Sri Lanka towards human rights activists and, specifically, civil society representatives who went to Geneva to support the resolution again the government. These activists have been issued veiled death threats and, as Sanjana notes, have been called ‘dogs’, ‘traitors’ and ‘terrorists’ by the largely government-sponsored media.

This vilification is not an isolated act; it is yet another example of a systematic attempt to exclude the voice of civil society that calls for a different path to reconciliation and coexistence. We see diversity as a resource in democracy. The different viewpoints brought forth can result in the creation of a unified whole that is more sustainable in the long run. Civil society exists for the purpose of exploring alternative paths that can contribute to the public. Excluding and attempting to silence these alternative voices only result in an increased tension that hinders the journey ahead as a country.

The significance of a space for dissent

Engaging with the voices of dissent in a process of constructive criticism will be the first step towards  sustainable long term solutions in Sri Lanka

The significance of the space for dissent has been long noted by scholars and practitioners alike. Rajini Obeyesekere in ‘Sri Lankan Theatre at a Time of Terror’ notes that dissent is an inherent part of every cultureand that it must ‘inevitably find an outlet in some culturally accepted public arena’ when ‘authoritarian governments clam down on critical expression using violence and political terror’. She allocates that space to the theatre in Sri Lanka during the insurgency in late 1980’s.Today, the community of peacebuilding actors and organizations come to the fore as important stakeholders in this space. The hate speech campaign targeting these individuals at a superficial level- refusing to engage with them in a productive public dialogue-narrows down this vital space for dissent in today’s Sri Lanka.

The outward lack of dissent and seemingly peaceful veneer can lead to a simmering mass of people underneath. Curtailing dissent is the starting point on the path that leads to civil wars: “civil wars arise when individuals, groups and factions discover that a policeman, judge, soldier or politician no longer speaks and acts for them.” (Doyle and Sambanis 2000: 799) [pdf].

In this light, the recent release of Gen. Sarath Fonseka can be applauded – simply because this action by the government doubles as a statement for ensuring citizenship rights of an individual and allowing factions of dissent to exist. Engaging with the voices of dissent in a process of constructive criticism, instead of indiscriminately labeling these as ‘traitors’ or ‘terrorists’ to silence them, will be the first step towards a search for sustainable long term solutions to the problems faced by the post-conflict Sri Lanka.

source: http://www.insightonconflict.org/2012/08/civil-society-dissent-sri-lanka/