Yet another Presidential Commission was appointed in August 2013 to look into the allegations of disappearances in Sri Lanka due to the incessant demands of the families of the disappeared and the international community. The Commission began its sittings in January this year starting with public sittings in Killinochchi. The Commission is mandated to look into involuntary disappearances of persons in the North and East of Sri Lanka.
Several serious concerns have arisen with regard to the current Commission. Firstly, the Commission itself was formed without any consultation with the concerned families or the civil society and even though there have been over 11,000 complaints received, it has come to light that only a few have been selected to depose before the Commission. This deliberate attempt to prevent families whose next of kin have disappeared in the hands of the Sri Lankan military from giving evidence at these public sittings and the reluctance to record evidence regarding those who surrendered to the Military on the 18th of May 2009 is significant.
There have been several complaints with regard to visits by the TID (Terrorist Investigation Division) and CID officers to families of the disappeared promising them compensation and death certificate requesting them to avail the same. Counters were set up for that purpose in close proximity to the venue of Commission proceedings in Kilinochchi. Whilst most families have refused such offers and demanded that they be allowed to give evidence before the Commission, it raises concerns regarding the lack of confidentiality which may deter the victim families from pursuing their complaints. Using the state structures such as the TID, CID and the military is reflective of the intentions of the government which seems to have appointed this Commission merely to appease the international community in the run-upto the UN sessions in March.
It is also significant that the Attorney General has been “assisting” the Commission in leading evidence and other procedures. However in the Habeas Corpus applications still pending in the High Court of Vavuniya filed by some families who are also complainants in this Commission, the Attorney General as far back as November 2013 representing the Army Commander had tendered a complete denial that no disappearance had been caused by the Sri Lankan Army. Axiomatically, the same Senior State Counsel of the Attorney Generals Department who appeared in the said Habeas Corpus proceedings is now assisting the Commission. Having made no secret of their intentions and where their sympathies lie, the Attorney General and the said Senior State Counsel are estopped under accepted legal and moral principles from participating in any manner in the Commission proceedings . The conflict of interest as regards the AG’s role in similar circumstances has been raised earlier as well. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) appointed to monitor the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to look into 16 cases of serious human rights violations including the ACF aid workers case and the Trinco 5 student killings, in its report stated that the Attorney General’s Department has played an “inappropriate and impermissible role in the proceedings of the Commission and in advising the Commission on the conduct of its proceedings.” The said group held that lack of transparency and the conflict of interest compromised national and international standards of independence and impartiality that are central to the credibility and public confidence of the said commission.
The Tamil Lawyers Forum states that the current Commission is yet another mechanism to deceive and distract the international community from insisting on an international investigative mechanism that can ensure accountability and justice for the war crimes committed during the last stages of the war.
6th February 2014