Sri Lankan army commandos march during an Independence Day celebration in Colombo. (AP)

Abstract

Sri Lanka faces a crisis of impunity. Accountability for grave human rights abuses remains elusive despite a long history of local and international activism, and successive governments committing to reform.

This panel discussion explores the issue of accountability in Sri Lanka using three lenses. Each lens will be applied to a specific human rights challenge that is associated with impunity in the country: violence against religious minorities, torture, and enforced disappearance. First, Dr. Farzana Haniffa, Visiting Fellow at the University of Cambridge, will examine the responses of civil society actors and survivor groups to the long-term absence of accountability for past crimes against particular communities. She will focus on the human rights abuses endured by the Muslim community both during and after Sri Lanka's armed conflict, which ended in 2009. Second, Dr. Kiran Grewal, Reader in Sociology, Goldsmiths University of London, will examine institutional responses to the issue of accountability. She will focus specifically on the challenge of preventing torture within law enforcement agencies and the military in Sri Lanka. Finally, Gehan Gunatilleke, DPhil candidate in Law at the University of Oxford, will discuss legislative and policy reforms designed to advance accountability in Sri Lanka. He will focus on the issue of enforced disappearance, and evaluate the potential offered by Sri Lanka's recent law that criminalises enforced disappearance.

The panel discussion sets out to grapple with the problem of accountability in Sri Lanka from the intersecting perspectives of communities, institutions and the law. It will accordingly attempt to offer insights into why - despite significant efforts on all three fronts - impunity in Sri Lanka remains chronic and systemic.

Bios

Kiran Grewal

Dr Grewal is a Reader in Human Rights in the Department of Sociology. A qualified lawyer, she has worked as a scholar, practitioner and activist in the areas of refugee law, sexual and gender-based violence, torture prevention, policing and international criminal law in Australia, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Dr Grewal’s research is particularly concerned with the interactions between legal frameworks and social justice struggles of marginalized and/or subaltern groups. She is also generally interested in postcolonial, subaltern and feminist approaches to human rights, law, sexual and gender-based violence and transitional justice. She is the author of two books: The Socio-Political Practice of Human Rights (Routledge 2016) and Racialised Gang Rape and the Reinforcement of Dominant Order: Discourses of Gender, Race and Nation (Routledge 2017).

Dr Grewal is currently working on a project entitled, ‘The Everyday Life of Human Rights’ focused on subaltern engagements with the language and institutions of human rights in post-war Sri Lanka.

Farzana Haniffa

Dr Haniffa conducts research and has published on issues of minority politics, religious reform movements and ethno-religious violence.

Dr Haniffa has also documented violence against minority communities in both the north and the south of Sri Lanka. In 2011 Dr Haniffa coordinated a Citizens’ Commission project to document the expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In 2013-2015 Haniffa, through the Secretariat for Muslims, helped record incidents of anti Muslim hate. In June 2014 Haniffa led a team of researches to document the anti-Muslim violence in Aluthgama and adjacent areas. Haniffa is currently leading a team that is completing a report on the violence against Muslims in the Kandy District in March 2018.

In January 2016, Dr Haniffa was appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office to the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms. Dr Haniffa serves on the management council of the Social Scientists’ Association, and the Board of Directors of the Law and Society Trust.

Gehan Gunatilleke

Gehan Gunatilleke is a DPhil student at the University of Oxford, and a researcher at the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights. His doctoral research focuses on state authority to restrict religious liberty and the freedom of expression under international human rights law.

As a former advisor to the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry, he served on legislative drafting committees that have drafted key human rights laws in Sri Lanka including the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance Act. His past work in Sri Lanka, where he was Research Director at Verité Research, focused on combating ethno-religious violence and campaigning against state regulation of mainstream and social media. Gehan is currently a tutor in human rights law at St. Catherine's College, University of Oxford. 

Dharsha Jegatheeswaran

Dharsha Jegatheeswaran is the Research Director for the Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research, a Jaffna-based human rights think-tank she helped start in 2016. Over the last two years she has focused her research the impacts of militarization in the North-East of Sri Lanka and barriers to accountability in the domestic legal system. She has also worked closely with Tamil victim-survivor communities to provide capacity-building support including with protesting families of the disappeared and internally displaced communities. She holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Toronto and is called to the Bar in the province of Ontario. She is currently completing her LLM in Public International Law at the London School of Economics.