— Sri Lanka’s new government said Monday that it would set up a truth, justice and reconciliation commission and draft a new constitution to stabilize the country and address the bitter grievances left by its decades-long civil war.
The foreign minister, Mangala Samaraweera, announced the measures in a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council here. His address came three days before the release of a long-awaited United Nations report on the killing of an estimated 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians in 2009 by armed forces under President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The report was supposed to have been presented to the council in March but was delayed to give President Maithripala Sirisena, who had defeated Mr. Rajapaksa in an election two months earlier, time to come up with plans for achieving reconciliation and accountability and for cooperating with international investigators.
According to Mr. Samaraweera, the government planned to set up the reconciliation commission with advice from South Africa. It also proposed the creation of an Office of Missing Persons to identify the fate of people who disappeared during the civil war, and an Office of Reparations to address compensation. It also planned to create a “constituent assembly of Parliament” to prepare a new constitution in order to avoid a recurrence of conflict, he said.
But after years of delays and opposition while the Rajapaksa government was in power, many in Sri Lanka and abroad say the degree of international participation in the investigation will be a litmus test for the new government.
“We would want international judges in special courts that the government sets up, independent prosecutors and, importantly, laws to incorporate crimes into the body of offenses in Sri Lanka with retroactive effect,” Abraham Sumanthiran, a member of Parliament from the Tamil National Alliance, the biggest Tamil party, said in an interview. Human rights observers also stress the need to protect witnesses to atrocities.
Those concerns underscore the persistent sense of insecurity in Sri Lanka, particularly among Tamils, despite President Sirisena’s pledges.
“The anti-terrorist mechanism that was so ferocious under Rajapaksa is still there,” said Alan Keenan, a Sri Lanka specialist at the International Crisis Group. “People can complain more freely but the apparatus that watches them closely and harasses people remains.”
The government has so far committed itself to a domestic process of investigation. In his statement to the council on Monday, Mr. Samaraweera spoke only of accepting financial, material and technical support from international partners.
Still, Mr. Samaraweera made sure to address broader concerns about the direction of reforms. He pledged the that government would strengthen the national human rights commission, disengage the military from commercial activities and issue instructions to the security services that torture, rape, sexual violence and other abuses they were accused of having committed were prohibited.
The process of reform “may not be as fast as some may want it to be. And for some, we may have already gone too far,” Mr. Samaraweera told the council, but the president and prime minister have “the political will and the courage of their convictions to ensure that we take the country forward.”