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Implications

Clearly, at this point in time, with a government apparently uninterested in accountability and without significant pressure from powerful states, the prospects for a thorough accounting, whether through trials or a full and genuine commission of inquiry, domestically or at a formal international level, are slim. The consolidation of power in the hands of the Rajapaksa family, including through the eighteenth amendment to the constitution, make accountability unlikely in the near term.[1] However there is clearly a demand for some form of justice in Sri Lanka, emanating from within the country as well as from international NGOs and the United Nations. Certainly the turnout to testify at the LLRC illustrates the demand, if not for legal justice, at least to be heard, on the part of many in the population, including in the north.

Perhaps the most troubling implication is for post-conflict justice more generally, as the experience of Sri Lanka illustrates the possibility that a democratic country which has held several trials and numerous commissions of inquiry for past abuses may simultaneously experience a decline in the quality of rule of law driven by executive consolidation of power. For scholars and practitioners who have sought to link accountability and rule of law in conflict-affected countries, the implications seem unfortunately evident: failures of the rule of law and constitutional reforms centralizing power may emerge alongside or despite accountability measures including both trials and commissions of inquiry, and at the same time that such consolidation of power may contribute to future constraints upon accountability, even in a country with a reasonably longstanding history of democratic rule, such as Sri Lanka. The experience of Sri Lanka suggests that, rather than promote human rights and democracy in the future, past accountability measures may do little to constrain state violence, and that the state may engage in serious international crimes well after those past accountability measures and robustly resist demands for genuine accountability for those crimes. The prospects for true peace and reconciliation in the country are, to say the least, not heartening. In the absence of a thorough domestic investigation, the argument for an international investigative mechanism, as recommended by the UN panel of experts, the International Crisis Group, and Human Rights Watch, seems the most viable next step, although prospects for such a mechanism are, at the time of this writing, unclear.[2]

  • [1] International Crisis Group, ‘Reconciliation in Sri Lanka,’ p. 10.
  • [2] Human Rights Watch, ‘Sri Lanka: Report Fails to Advance Accountability.’
 
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