Eminent persons’ group quits Sri Lanka rights abuse probe

March 6th, 2008 - 6:10 pm ICT by admin  

Colombo, March 6 (IANS) A group of eminent international personalities who had been overseeing the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to curb human rights abuses Thursday resigned from their role. Complaining of a lack of will on the part of the government to investigate the abuses, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) headed by former Indian chief justice P.N. Bhagwati said in a statement that most of its suggestions in regard to the functioning of the government’s Commission of Inquiry (COI) had been ignored or rejected.

The process of inquiry and investigation had fallen “far short” of international norms and standards. And official correspondence directed to the IIGEP lacked respect and civility, it said.

In November 2006, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa had appointed a Commission of Inquiry to investigate 16 incidents of alleged serious violation of human rights in Sri Lanka since Aug 1, 2005.

The president subsequently invited a group of eminent persons of international standing to oversee the functioning of the COI and make recommendations for improvement. The IIGEP began functioning in February 2007.

The IIGEP said in its statement that it had more than once pointed out that the position of the Sri Lankan attorney general in the work of the COI was untenable, as there was a conflict of interest. The COI lacked an independent staff and proper funding.

Government staff at the highest levels had not cooperated with the investigations and the effect of the absence of an effective and comprehensive witness protection system was palpable.

“There is a climate of threat, direct or indirect, to the lives of anyone who might identity persons responsible for human rights violations, including those which are likely to be committed by the security forces. Civilian eyewitnesses have not come forward to the commission. Security forces’ witnesses preferred to make themselves look incompetent than just telling what they know,” the statement said.

“Accordingly, it is evident that the commission is unlikely to be in a position to pursue its mandate effectively.”

“These inherent and fundamental impediments inevitably lead to the conclusion that there has been, and continues to be, a lack of political and institutional will to investigate and inquire into the cases before the commission.”

It said the IIGEP was “therefore terminating its role in the process, not only because of the shortcomings of the commission’s work, but primarily because the IIGEP identifies an institutional lack of support for the commission”.

COI chairperson Justice N.K. Udalagama said the IIGEP’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the process was regrettable.

He maintained that much valuable evidence had been gathered in regard to the cases in question. If at times witnesses or documents could not be produced, it was because of some flaws in the Commission of Inquiry Act, which were cleared through an amendment to the act in February this year.

According to him, the Sri Lankan system was such that the attorney general could not be excluded from the proceedings.

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