[JURIST] The Sri Lankan Parliament [official website] on Thursday passed the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Bill [Ceylon Daily News report] aimed at protecting the rights of criminal victims and witnesses. Under the new bill, witnesses would receive fair treatment and privacy from judicial and investigatory authorities; protections against harassment, intimidation and coercion; and women and minor witnesses would be permitted to testify in judges’ chambers rather than open court. The parliament believes this law will encourage more witnesses to aid in criminal cases. Additionally, the bill would also reimburse witnesses for costs associated with cooperating with law enforcement, and it would punish anyone who harasses or threatens a victim or witness of a crime to a prison sentence of three to 10 years. According to one member of parliament, Lakshman Kiriella, the former government promised a witness protection bill and investigation into war crimes but failed to enact either, causing an international probe. The bill was passed just days after the UN Human Rights Council [official website] delayed [JURIST report] the release of a report investigating alleged war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that, unlike the previous government, the new government under Maithripala Sirisena [official website] has committed to addressing human rights issues.
Since his election in January, Sirisena has expressed a strong desire to push for reforms in Sri Lanka. In January Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urged the new government to prioritize human rights [JURIST report]. Earlier this month AI India said that a meeting between Sirisena and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi should emphasize justice [JURIST report] and the rule of law. Last month the new government stated [JURIST report] it is planning to investigate accusations of human rights abuses during the closing stages of the 26-year civil war. Sirisena also announced [JURIST report] the reinstatement of former Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake [JURIST news archive], calling the impeachment a procedural error. Bandaranayake had been impeached [JURIST report] in 2013 by an overwhelming vote in parliament.