Truth to Truth



The International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims is marked globally on 24th March. It is a day to remember the victims of past abuses and promote the right to truth and justice. The right to truth is linked to governments’ duty and obligation to protect and guarantee human rights, to conduct effective investigations and to guarantee effective remedy and reparations.

The transitional justice discourse in Sri Lanka is reenergized with the adoption of the Resolution at the 30th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in September-October 2015. The consensus resolution, cosponsored by the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), is an important step in terms of recognizing past abuses and the need to investigate, prosecute, repair and reform within Sri Lanka. The GOSL has, in addition to confidence building measures such as reforming legislation and releasing lands to original owners, promised the establishment of four mechanisms in Sri Lanka- a special court, a commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence, an office of missing persons and office for reparations. These are critical steps in the road to reconciliation in Sri Lanka and must be fully implemented.

2016 will be a critical year in Sri Lanka and for Sri Lankans. The promises are many for a new Sri Lanka. Recognizing and reckoning with past abuses and introducing much needed reforms are critical if reconciliation is to have a chance.

This exhibition is a joint collaboration by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts (VAFA) to explore transitional justice via the medium of art. Fourteen emerging artists from across Sri Lanka discussed and debated concepts of transitional justice and its relevance to Sri Lanka at a residential workshop in February 2016 conducted by Chandraguptha Thenuwara and Bhavani Fonseka, followed by the production of art work that is on display at this exhibition. The exhibition commences on 24th March 2016, the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. This day and what it symbolizes is a poignant reminder for Sri Lankans of the need to recognize the past and promote truth, justice, reparations, non-repetition.

We hope the art work and literature around the theme of transitional justice will expand the discussions on transitional justice and provide a space for reflection, remedy and reform.


Read this in Tamil and Sinhala.

Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka and Ways Forward

With the end of the war in 2009, the need to address the widespread death, destruction, and displacement was overwhelming. Allegations against all sides of potential war crimes and crimes against humanity demands an independent investigation and the prosecution within a credible court of law of those responsible for international crimes committed during the final stages of the war and during its aftermath. The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has consistently called for such independent investigations and other accountability measures to address truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence of violence in Sri Lanka. This appeal continues six years after the end of the war. In this report, CPA sets out a range of processes and mechanisms available to the Sri Lankan government to ensure accountability for serious human rights violations and alleged crimes committed during the war. While many stakeholders are identified in the report, the ultimate responsibility for truth and justice in Sri Lanka lies with its citizens; accordingly they must play the central role in the design and implementation of future processes and mechanisms. CPA hopes that the options provided in this report enrich the discussions and debates about the design and implementation of a credible domestic process with the long term goal of achieving truth and justice in Sri Lanka.

Download the full report below.

Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka and Ways Forward


Discussion Paper: The Need for a Comprehensive Reparations Policy and Package

For any post war society grappling with the consequences of past violence and engaged in exploring modalities for transitional justice, reparations is an important tool. Reparations, if designed and implemented in an inclusive manner that factors in the grievances of the victims and affected communities, can be an effective tool in acknowledging and addressing the injustices of the past. It is a bridge between the past and the future, and an integral element in the transition towards reconciliation.

The numerous transitional justice initiatives in Sri Lanka, in the past, have at different times explored the issue of reparations, many in ad-hoc forms with no comprehensive policy yet to be introduced that meets basic international standards. Past commissions of inquiry (COIs) including the All Island Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal and Disappearance of Certain Persons of 1998 (Disappearances COI) and the more recent Lessons Learnt Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recognized the need for reparations and made some useful recommendations including legal and policy reform and assistance to victims. There have also been government circulars and programs to award compensation and issue death certificates including the work of the Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Industries Authority (REPPIA). This paper discusses some of these initiatives, some which continue to be relevant and necessary today, and provides recommendations that should be examined and implemented without further delay.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) reiterates its advocacy over the years for truth, justice, reparations and institutional reform. In the post war context, CPA has done considerable work in documenting trends and patterns of ongoing violations and advocated reform including legal and policy reform. CPA has also called for action in terms of the four arms of transitional justice and has initiated dialogues among the different stakeholders on the areas that require reform. In this regard, CPA will produce several policy documents to feed into the design and implementation of processes and mechanisms of transitional justice, which will generate a wider discussion on transitional justice and related issues. This is an initial paper on reparations, which will be followed by several other initiatives.

Download the discussion paper here.

The Need for a Comprehensive Reparations Policy and Package

Benchmarks and Issues to Consider when Exploring Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka

Several reports in 2015 indicate to the possibility of establishing a ‘credible domestic process’ in Sri Lanka. This comes in a context of failed attempts in the past to address truth and justice in Sri Lanka and the ongoing protests by victims, families of the disappeared and affected communities for greater action. Recent protests also made specific reference to the developments at the 28th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the decision of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to defer the tabling of the report by the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL). The reports of a ‘credible domestic process’ also come in the context of the OISL report being tabled at the 30th Session of the UNHRC and pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka to deliver on plans that address past violations and introduce reforms.

Key benchmarks and issues must be discussed when designing and subsequently implementing domestic processes and mechanisms. In this regard, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has produced this short note to initiate a discussion among the different stakeholders as to the different elements that must be part and parcel of any process/mechanism.

Download the discussion paper here.

CPA Benchmarks and Issues March 2015

Legal and Policy Implications of Recent Land Acquisitions, Evictions and Related Issues in Sri Lanka

Land has a central place in the post war debates involving resettlement, reconstruction, development and the search for a political solution. With the ten year anniversary of the tsunami nearing and more than five years after the end of the war, many questions regarding land issues persist including continuing challenges to individuals being able to fully enjoy, access and use their lands and reside in their homes, due to restrictions placed in the name of security and development. Furthermore, Sri Lanka has a complex framework for legal and possessory rights, covering both State and private land. This framework is meant to provide tenure security for individuals residing and using the land and safeguards to prevent arbitrary displacement and eviction. The legal and policy framework, despite its shortcomings and the need for reform in specific areas, is a basic starting point of a governance system as well as constituting recognition of the rights of those owning and in possession of land. Unfortunately, present practices and recent policy decisions undermine the framework in place and demonstrate a deliberate disregard and/or ignorance of what is in the books. These challenges are highlighted in the present brief with recommendations provided for immediate reform.

Download the policy brief here or read it online here.


Policy Brief: Politics, Policies and Practices with Land Acquisitions and Related Issues in the North and East of Sri Lanka

The Centre for Policy Brief (CPA) in its most recent policy brief titled ‘Politics, Policies and Practices with Land Acquisitions and Related Issues in the North and East of Sri Lanka’ issued today draws attention to several disturbing trends of land acquisition and related issues in the North and East. The brief makes the case that since the end of the war, instead of using land policies to further reconciliation, the Government of Sri Lanka has abused provisions within the Land Acquisition Act among other pieces of legislation to take over thousands of acres of land in a manner that predominantly affects minority communities and facilitates entrenched militarisation in the North and East.

The brief documents how the Government through land acquisitions has shown clear disregard for the law, often acting outside the parameters of the Land Acquisition Act and avoiding the inherent responsibilities of the Act itself, which requires that land only be taken where it is for a “public purpose”. The brief examines three specific cases, Jaffna, Sampur and Weli Oya, to highlighted problems related to acquisitions and alienation of land and how the present practices raises concerns of ‘land grabs’ in the area.  Another disturbing trend with respect to land highlighted in this brief is the dominant role of the central government and military actors in the administration of land.

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The brief comes at a time when there is increased attention on Sri Lanka. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was recently held in Colombo where several issues related to human rights and reconciliation were raised including ongoing problems related to land. There is likely to be attention on these issues in the coming months and leading to the United Nations Human Rights Council session in March 2014. This brief focuses on land acquisitions and related issues because they serve as an important reflection of government policy and attitudes towards meaningful reconciliation. As the Government continues to blatantly disregard legal standards and pursue initiatives that can constitute ‘land grabs’, they further alienate minority communities and contribute to perceptions that the Government only caters to the majority community. The questions raised in the policy brief have far-reaching implications for devolution and governance in the area, begging the question of whether trends of further centralisation and militarisation regarding land issues are signs of things to come and accordingly key impediments to reconciliation and unity. It is time to take stock of ground realities and initiate reform. 

Download as a PDF here or read online here (or below).

Available in Sinhala and Tamil as well.