by International Truth & Justice Project Sri Lanka, South Africa, September 2015
Sri Lanka has a dismal record of achieving truth or justice through the various Commissions of Inquiry it has established in the past, with no accountability of any kind domestically for any past violations. The context of Sri Lanka is also different from the context of other countries in transition as many of the alleged perpetrators and their authority structures are still in place, still wielding power or great influence, still allegedly committing ongoing violations, and still for the most part Sinhalese. In addition, the Rajapaksa and the Sirisena governments have both refused cooperation with the UN OISL Inquiry.
IIGEP: The last domestic initiative that involved an international component – the Commission of Inquiry into 16 cases, including the massacre of the ACF aid workers and the murder of five Trincomalee students in 2006 – was an abject failure, primarily due to serious witness protection issues, and a lack of independence of the Commission. The 11 members of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) who had been invited by the President to observe his “independent” commission and to ensure that the commission conducted its investigations according to international norms and standards, all resigned in early 2008 for a number of reasons, the most important of which was that it was of their view that the Commission had repeatedly failed to meet international norms and standards. One of the key concerns was the role of the Attorney General, who played the role of chief legal adviser to the army, police and President and was thus in a conflict of interest in becoming the advisor to the Commission. This was more so given the Commission was tasked to investigate why the initial investigations involving the Attorney General’s office were failures in the first place. Throughout its mandate, IIGEP attempted but failed to have officers of the Attorney General’s office removed from the inner workings of the Commission.
In the current environment of persecution of victims and witnesses (see ITJP, A Still Unfinished War: Sri Lanka’s survivors of Torture and Sexual Violence 2009-2015) any justice mechanism established must be based on the highest international standards guaranteeing complete independence. Minimum standards should include the following: