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432-00052 (Foreign affairs)

Paper petition

Original language of petition: English

Petition to the Government of Canada

WHEREAS,

  • Canada has played and continues to play an important role in advocating for accountability, sustainable peace, and human rights in Sri Lanka and all over the world;
  • Canada is home to the second largest Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora population and many of their relatives have disappeared while in the custody of the Sri Lankan Government (Enforced Disappearances);
  • Sri Lanka has the second (the first being Iraq) largest number of disappearance cases communicated by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to the government for action. Amnesty places the number of disappeared between 60,000 and 100,000;
  • According to the investigation of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for human rights (OISL) many of the victims are in the Northern and Eastern part of Sri Lanka where many Sri Lankan Tamils reside.
  • Even though Sri Lanka ratified the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearance it made reservation to Article 31 of the Convention which allows the Committee established under the Convention to receive communication from the victims or on behalf of the victims.
  • In most countries the international crimes are committed by states themselves or by employing state apparatus. For instance according to the Report of the Expert Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General in Sri Lanka, the crimes were committed by the state. Thus a mechanism should be created to hold states accountable for these heinous crimes.
  • On August 30th, 2020, the International Day of the Disappeared, a dedicated group of Tamil-Canadians began a long Walk for Justice for victims of enforced disappearances, with the full support of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, community members and various other Tamil organizations;
  • Mr. Mahajayam Mahalingam, Mr. Vijitharan Varatharajah, Mr. David Thomas, and Mr. Yogendran Vaiseegamagapathy walked from Brampton City Hall to Parliament Hill, a total of 434 km while Mr. Yogeswaran Nadesu, Mr. Kulenthirasigamany Veluchsamy, and Mr. Vijayakumar Namasivayam walked from Mont-Royal, Québec to Parliament Hill, a total of 227 km;

WE, THE UNDERSIGNED CITIZENS AND RESIDENTS OF CANADA, CALL UPON PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU AND THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA TO:

(1) Support a legislative effort to remove sovereign immunity as a defense by states for international crimes: namely genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and enforced disappearances, and;

(2) Refer Sri Lanka to the Committee established under the Convention Against Enforced Disappearances pursuant to Article 32 of the Convention.

Response by the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Signed by (Minister or Parliamentary Secretary): The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne

The promotion and protection of human rights around the world is an integral part of Canada’s foreign policy. Enforced disappearances are inhumane, and they have a devastating effect on victims, their families, their communities and society as a whole. This despicable practice violates human rights and causes terrible suffering. Canada will continue to work to end enforced disappearances and end impunity.

Canada urges States to investigate all cases of alleged enforced disappearances, disclose the whereabouts of the disappeared or their mortal remains, respect the right of families to know the fate of victims of serious human rights violations, and fight impunity.

In 2016, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances issued a report on its mission to Sri Lanka which noted that Sri Lanka had the second highest number of enforced disappearance cases before the Working Group. This legacy of enforced disappearances, dating back to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna uprisings in the 1970s and 1980s and through the civil conflict between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) well into the 2000s, has created deep and lasting trauma in communities across Sri Lanka and the world. To date, there has been no accountability, justice or closure for the disappeared or their families.

Canada, alongside the international community, has consistently pushed for the Government of Sri Lanka to respect human rights and, in the post war years, to deliver on reconciliation, accountability and transitional justice. These efforts are critical to bring closure to families and communities and deliver real peace and prosperity for all Sri Lankans.

In December 2015, the Government of Sri Lanka signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (CED). It was ratified without reservations in May 2016 and the Government of Sri Lanka declared, per Article 32, that it recognized the importance and the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications in which a State Party claims that another State Party is not fulfilling its obligations under this Convention. A Bill for Protection against Enforced Disappearances was passed in March 2018.

These successes were the result of strong advocacy by the international community in the context of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). It was in resolution 30/1, “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”, (co-sponsored in 2015 and extended in 2017) that the Government of Sri Lanka committed to sign and ratify the CED and establish an Office of Missing Persons and an Office of Reparations. Fulfillment of the mandates of these offices would bring hope to those left behind following tens of thousands of cases of enforced disappearances over many years. Recognizing the importance of coordinated advocacy in multilateral forums, Canada joined the core group for the resolution on Sri Lanka alongside the UK, Germany, North Macedonia and Montenegro and contributed to the negotiation of resolution 40/1 in March 2019.

Alongside the other members of the core group, Canada expressed deep disappointment and concern when the Government of Sri Lanka announced plans to withdraw from the UNHRC resolution at the 43rd HRC session in February 2020. At the session, Canada shared its disappointment and noted that those who were directly affected by the conflict, including the families of the disappeared, require closure and answers in order to build sustainable peace.

At the same time, Sri Lanka announced its intent to proceed with a domestic reconciliation process. Eight months later, the international community is still waiting to hear what that process will entail. At the 45th session of the UNHRC in September 2020, the core group noted previous such domestic processes have, regrettably, proved insufficient to tackle impunity and deliver real reconciliation in Sri Lanka. The core group urged the council to pay particular attention to how the new approach will differ from these previous attempts and put the victims of conflict at its heart. The future of the Independent Commissions including the Office for Missing Persons and Office for Reparations will be particularly important.

Canada has consistently called for a clear timetable and strategy for implementing a process of accountability that has the trust and confidence of the victims, including the families of the disappeared. The importance of sustaining and accelerating reconciliation efforts has been repeatedly emphasized by Canada both multilaterally and bilaterally.

With respect to the request that the government support a legislative effort to remove sovereign immunity as a defense by states for international crimes, it must first be noted that only individuals can have criminal responsibility, not states. In this respect, Canada is a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was established to hold to account those responsible for the most serious international crimes in instances when states are unwilling or unable to do so. The Rome Statute applies equally to all persons, regardless of official capacity, including if a person is a Head of State or Government, or other government official or representative.

Canada is committed to the universalization of the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, and consistently urges all states to cooperate with the Court. Canada was also the first state to introduce comprehensive national legislation to implement the Rome Statute, namely the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. Under this Act, it is a criminal offence within Canada to commit the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, regardless of where in the world these crimes are committed.

Further to the request that Canada refer Sri Lanka to the Committee established under the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, it must be noted that Canada is not party to the CED. Only State Parties can refer another State Party to the Committee established under the Convention under Article 32; accordingly, Canada is unable to refer Sri Lanka to the Committee. Other State Parties to the Convention may refer Sri Lanka, if they so choose.

Canada will closely monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and continue to follow the government’s plans for a domestic reconciliation process.   Canada will continue to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to address past human rights violations, including abductions and enforced disappearances, and end impunity. Canada will continue to support the work of activists in Sri Lanka to resolve outstanding questions related to disappearances.

 

Presented to the House of Commons
Gary Anandasangaree (Scarborough—Rouge Park)
October 2, 2020 (Petition No. 432-00052)
Government response tabled
November 16, 2020
Photo - Gary Anandasangaree
Scarborough—Rouge Park
Liberal Caucus
Ontario

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