Failed Domestic Mechanisms
Whenever the possibility of an international investigation of human rights violations is raised, representatives of the Sri Lankan government are quick to shoot it down. The representatives will reject such investigations as ‘unconstitutional’ or unacceptable to the people of Sri Lanka,  and instead refer to their own domestic accountability processes.  In reality, victim-survivor communities have consistently demanded  an international probe into wartime atrocities and other violations, and many have long rejected the idea of a purely domestic accountability process. For decades, victims and their families have dealt with dozens of Commissions and investigative bodies, ostensibly established to provide justice and accountability for past violations, only to then watch those bodies totally fail to produce any tangible results. Successive Sri Lankan governments have manipulated these domestic bodies for their own ends and failed to heed most of the often-meagre recommendations they have offered, allowing the cycle of violence and abuse to continue. An excellent study by the International Commission of Jurists  has shown that these failed mechanisms date back to at least 1977. Even today, there remains a lack of political will to change this pattern. The government of Sri Lanka has also consistently rejected  the idea of any hybrid court in the country, saying that such measures ‘are against the Constitution’. However, for decades, Sri Lanka’s domestic courts have failed to deliver real accountability for victims. A confidential source has examined 303 incidents of disappearances in Mannar, Jaffna, and Vavuniya in the Northern Province between 1990 and 2000, which represent only a fraction of the complaints registered with various domestic Commissions of Inquiry during this period. Of these cases, at least 67 identified either an individual perpetrator or a military camp where the alleged disappearance took place. In three incidents, the complainants specifically identified the perpetrator as belonging to a state-supported group. Of the 83 criminal cases filed in the courts, only the rape and murder of Krishanthy Kumaraswamy  resulted in any convictions. Our source also investigated 560 further incidents of disappearances in Jaffna, Vavuniya, and Mannar between 2001 and 2009. Of these, 110 incidents identified either a military camp or individual who they alleged was involved in an enforced disappearance; of these, only one reported incident has resulted in both a court case and a conviction. The convict in this case, Sunil Ratnayake, was released via Presidential pardon  by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, having served only five years in prison for the murder of eight Tamil civilians, including three children. Sri Lanka’s courts have not proved to be reliable routes for accountability for these victims.
Whilst the international community should encourage all accountability processes in Sri Lanka, they must not accept any domestic process as a substitute for an international mechanism. To do so would ignore the wishes of victim-survivor groups, Sri Lanka’s faltering legal system, the government’s long history of broken promises, and the decades-long failure of the domestic system. These domestic mechanisms – whether police investigations or commissions of inquiry – have time and again served only to delay justice for the victims for so long that both victims and perpetrators pass away before accountability has been achieved.