Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Independent Panel Faults Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission

by Bharatha Mallawarachi, AP, June 11, 2007

``The commission has so far made hardly any noticeable progress in investigations and inquiries since its inception in November 2006,'' said the statement, signed by the panel's head, P.N. Bhagwati, a former Indian Supreme Court chief justice.

A presidential commission created to investigate human rights violations amid Sri Lanka's worsening civil conflict has been ineffective and plagued with conflicts of interest, an independent monitoring panel said.

The panel, created last year to oversee an official commission probing human rights violations, issued its first statement late Sunday night. It accused the commission of moving slowly, failing to protect witnesses, and operating without transparency.

``The commission has so far made hardly any noticeable progress in investigations and inquiries since its inception in November 2006,'' said the statement, signed by the panel's head, P.N. Bhagwati, a former Indian Supreme Court chief justice.

The commission's methods ``are not adequate and do not satisfy international norms and standards,'' it said, referring to inadequate witness protection programs and lagging investigations.

As violence between Tamil Tiger separatists and government forces has increased over the past 19 months on this war-torn island, activists have documented a wave of alleged human rights abuses, including abductions and killings.

British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells, in Colombo to meet with President Mahinda Rajapakse, condemned the abuses on Monday.

``The abductions and human rights abuses have to be ceased,'' Howells said. ``I very much hope that the Sri Lanka government will take up those suggestions (from the panel) and act on them very quickly.''

Rajapakse created the commission to investigate 16 specific cases of human rights violations, including the August 2006 killings of 17 employees of the French aid group Action Against Hunger.

The government appointed the 11-member international panel, called the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons, to monitor their investigation, though under tight reins. The panel, made up of rights activists from countries such as the United States, Canada, Japan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, is only permitted to ``observe'' the workings of the commission.

The panel came down hard on the attorney general's office, which functions as the commission's legal counsel, saying they found ``serious conflicts of interest.''

Members of the attorney general's office were involved in the original investigations as well as the commission's subsequent inquiries. ``As such, members of the Attorney General's Department may find that they are investigating themselves,'' the statement said.

Responding to the criticism, the attorney general's office slammed the panel's statement as ``inappropriate'' and suggested it stick to its mandate to ``make observations and recommendations.''

The commission said it was confident it would fulfill its task ``in the best interests of justice.''