7/15/2009

Sri Lanka Presidential Commission on serious violations of human rights submit an incomplete report before winding up

(July 15, 2009) The special Commission of Inquiry into alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka submitted an incomplete report to the President and wound up its operations.

The commission chaired by the retired Supreme Court Judge Nissanka Udalagama exonerated Army from the allegations leveled against them by various sections including the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission and the Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights regarding the killing of 17 employees of the French NGO named Action Against Hunger (ACF) in Muttur and the killing of five students in Trincomalee in 2006. But the probes did not extend to investigate the perpetrators of the crimes.

The commission admits the investigation is incomplete and recommends the President to probe the incidents further. Udalagama said to the BBC that it lacked resources for video conferencing with the witnesses that have sought asylum in foreign countries. The commission did not record evidence of one eye witness who escaped from death in the student massacre of Trincomalee. One woman laborer who was the last to visit the ACF office before the massacre and a policeman who had seen the whole episode were not testified. These persons have obtained political asylum in foreign countries now. Udalagama also said that the commission had no adequate time for the investigation.

"With regard to the disappearance of Rev. Nihal Jim Brown at Allaipidi in August 2006, inspite of all the effort we were unable to find his body or find anyone who saw the body. An inquiry into it would have become a futile exercise because we cannot recommend it to the High Court because the Court will not take up a case where there is no body," the Chairman of the commission said to Sunday Times on June 21.

The government appointed this presidential commission and an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) to assist and monitor the presidential commission due to international pressure on the spate of serious human rights violations. IIGEP was a group of individuals nominated by international donor countries and the government of Sri Lanka, vested with a wide mandate to observe all investigations and inquiries conducted by and on behalf of the Commission of Inquiry into alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. The following individuals were members of the IIGEP: The IIGEP chaired by former Chief Justice of India P.N.. Bhagawathi questioned the independence of the commission and the members resigned prematurely terminating its operations in April 2008. Since then the commission lacked luster and no one seemed looking forward for a remarkable outcome from the commission.

"In an IIGEP press briefing On April 22 2008, three members of the IIGEP clarified matters relating to their resignation. Sir Nigel Rodley characterized some of the communications to the IIGEP, including to its chairman as 'very disrespectful', and added that the latest AG response to the April 14th IIGEP public statements contained baseless allegations that the IIGEP were working according to a secret agenda in order to force UN Human Rights Monitoring onto Sri Lanka in defiance of Sri Lankas sovereignty. The IIGEP Chairman, P.N. Bhagwati, outlined that the allegations that the IIGEP did not understand the Sri Lankan legal system were irrelevant, as IIGEPs mandate calls for the group to comment on whether the proceedings conform to international standards, not Sri Lankan standards. Professor Yozo Yokota reminded the press corps that, contrary to government statements, the IIGEP is not a European group, but consists of experts from all over the world.

Main concerns of the IIGEP were as follows:
  • A lack of political will from the Government of Sri Lanka to support a search for the truth.
  • A conflict of interest in the proceedings before the Commission, with officers from the Attorney General playing an inappropriate and impermissible role in the proceedings.
  • Lack of effective victim and witness protection
  • Lack of transparency and timeliness in the proceedings
  • Lack of full cooperation by State bodies
  • Lack of financial independence of the Commission"
(Wikipedia)
The term of the commission came to an abrupt end in June with hearings into only seven cases concluded.

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