We are afraid to talk about difficult things
‘Reconciliation cannot be reached by simply sitting together and talking. We must also talk about some difficult things. But I feel that we are afraid to discuss these things openly’ says Ambiga Satkunanathan, Commissioner, Human Rights Commission. Her interview with The Catamaran. The Catamaran: What are the complaints regarding Human Rights violations during the post-war […]
‘Reconciliation cannot be reached by simply sitting together and talking. We must also talk about some difficult things. But I feel that we are afraid to discuss these things openly’ says Ambiga Satkunanathan, Commissioner, Human Rights Commission. Her interview with The Catamaran.
The Catamaran: What are the complaints regarding Human Rights violations during the post-war period?
After the war we received complaints regarding torture, illegal arrests, injustice and discrimination experienced by government officials.
The Catamaran: Which types of complaints were more common and against whom?
We received more complaints regarding torture which we have reported openly. During the past four years alone, we received 400 complaints on average, annually. More in previous years. And these complaints come from all around the country. All torture complaints were lodged against the police The complaints say that not only those who were arrested for major offences, but also those arrested for petty offences were tortured.
The Catamaran: Since the Easter Sunday attack, what type of complaints were received regarding human rights violations?
Complaints were received about arrests after the attack and of the difficulties faced by Muslim women when attending to their daily duties. We also received complaints regarding attacks made on Muslim villages on 13th May. Other complaints included the boycott on Muslims businesses.
The Catamaran: What action did you (HRC) take in response to the complaints?
We received complaints regarding extrajudicial arrests. This was brought to the notice of the Inspector General of Police. We instructed him about the procedures to be adopted when arresting. As regards the government circular restricting manner of dressing we pointed out to the relevant ministry about its impact on the basic rights of the Muslims women and advised the circular to be amended. As a result, the ministry sought our advice twice on this matter and a new circular was issued. We have also taken action to do away with the ban on business activities in two places including Batticaloa. At ministry level, we have sent letters regarding our policy.
The Catamaran: What human rights violations that took place were not reported?
Violations of women’s rights, the differently abled and those of estate workers were not reported very often. We believe they are ignorant of reporting mechanisms and created a programmed that educated them.
The Catamaran: Did you receive any complaints against the media?
There were many verbal complaints from civil society organisations and individuals about the irresponsible manner in which the media operated. In response, we published instructions on the conduct of the media. The Human Rights Commission has been continuously criticising the the media. But the media are yet to change their conduct. Some have requested some form of regulatory control over the media. However, priority should be given to the independence of the media while ensuring they act responsibly.
The Catamaran: : Could the electronic and social media be regulated?
Social media cannot create a serious impact like traditional media can. The number of people who use social media is very low in comparison to those who watch television and read newspapers. We must think about ways to regulate all media to be responsible and disciplined. To a certain extent, social platforms tried to control communal and hate speeches. However, that was not sufficient. Traditional media on the other hand took no such measures. For example, if you examine who originally published false news over the past two months, you will note that it was television and print media. Many believed these stories which in turn provoked negative reactions.
The Catamaran: What necessary actions should the government take to bring reconciliation between races in Sri Lanka?
After a 30 year war, we must study its reasons. Even in the present situation, a study should have been conducted to ascertain opinions against Muslims after the Easter Sunday attacks. This did not happen spontaneously after the attacks. Further, when there is a tendency to accept racial or religious extremism as something common, people get used to it. It is the duty of the government to find out the basic reasons for this. Reconciliation cannot be reached by simply sitting together and talking. We must also talk about some difficult things. But I feel we are afraid to discuss these things openly. A solution can be reached when we get rid of that fear.
The Catamaran: Is the Human Rights Commission satisfied with the reconciliation activities of the government regarding race and religion at present?
We are continuously emphasizing the problems and offering recommendations to the state. With regards to racial and religious reconciliation, the government has many things to do. It is only when the government makes an error that a human rights violation takes place. In these instances, we receive complaints which we investigate prior to offering recommendations to the government.