ast week, Sri Lanka signed the International Convention on Enforced Disappearances on International Human Rights Day, which fell on December 10. Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera, announced this at a function to mark the International Human Rights Day at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the same day.
The Government took this measure in response to a clause in the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka adopted in September this year which read “….welcomes the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance without delay, to criminalise enforced disappearances…”
If we are to expect total prevention or reduction of the incidence of enforced disappearances of people following the ratification of this International Convention, we imply, on the other hand, that more than19,000 cases of disappearances that had been reported to the missing persons commission, could have been averted had we criminalised the abductions through such a convention ten or fifteen years ago.
There is also another corresponding clause in this year’s UNHRC resolution that too is expected to serve as a deterrent to violations of Human Rights.
“Also welcomes the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to issue instructions clearly to all branches of the security forces that violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including those involving torture, rape and sexual violence, are prohibited and that those responsible will be investigated and punished. This too implies that security forces personnel would not violate human rights if they are enlightened on them.”
Needless to say these conventions and resolutions might serve as deterrents against abductions, extra judicial killings and such other Human Rights violations for some extent.
However, that does not mean that these crimes are not offences under the existing law.
Neither does it mean that the security forces personnel do not know that “violations of international Human Rights law and international Humanitarian Law, including those involving torture, rape and sexual violence, are prohibited.”
They also know, in the Sri Lankan context, that “those responsible will be investigated and punished” only if they do not have the political backing.
The investigation into the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda is being carried out under the existing law, and the perpetrators, if proved to be, would be punished under the same law.
Also, the Jaffna High Court, on October 7, this year sentenced four soldiers to 25 year Rigorous Imprisonment each under the existing law over a gang rape and sexual abuse.
These incidents point to the fact that the existing laws are sufficient to handle these crimes if leaders had the political will. The international conventions and resolutions would play a supplementary role by making the governments more accountable.
However, these conventions and domestic laws would be of no avail unless the political climate did not permit them to take their course, as we had witnessed in the past.
On the other hand, the political climate does not depend on the virtues of leaders, rather wholly depends on so many other external factors, two of which are the power they would be given at elections by the people and pressures exerted by the public opinion created by the media coupled with conscious activities of the civil society groups.
Where there is power to the extent that would intoxicate the leaders and where there is let up in the pressures exerted by the public opinion and civil society groups, there the conventions and domestic laws on Human Rights would come a cropper.
That points to the role of the media and the civil society in making these conventions and laws fruitful.