Indian-led international rights group quits in Sri Lanka

April 15th, 2008 - 7:05 pm ICT by admin  

By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, April 15 (IANS) A top international panel appointed to supervise a presidential commission of inquiry into the high profile human rights violations in Sri Lanka Tuesday declared it had wound up its operations in the county. The panel said it was unable to ensure adherence to international standards in the probes due to “absence of will” on the part of the Sri Lankan government.

The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), led by former Indian chief justice P.N. Bhagwati, in a public statement said it has “not been able to conclude that the proceedings of the commission have been transparent or have satisfied basic international norms and standards.”

“The IIGEP has, however, found an absence of will on the part of the government of Sri Lanka in the present inquiry to investigate cases with vigour, where the conduct of its own forces has been called into question,” IIGEP said.

It said certain officers of the armed forces “have refused to give information regarding the presence or absence of certain units at a particular time or in a particular place relevant to the cases so far examined by the commission”.

“National security has been cited as the basis of such refusal. The legal basis for claiming privilege with regard to information of this nature is not clear,” IIGEP said.

It said the Attorney General’s Department of Sri Lanka “has played an inappropriate and impermissible role in the proceedings” of the Commission of Inquiry and in advising the commission on the conduct of its proceedings.

Amidst growing international condemnation over human rights violations, the IIGEP was constituted by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in February last year.

The aim was to oversee the investigations carried out by the Presidential Commission Inquiry tasked to look into several high profile human rights violations including the killings of 17 aid workers in Trincomalee and of former foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

IIGEP claimed that it was fully aware of the Sri Lankan government being faced with an insurgency in which Tamil Tiger rebels “conduct their hostilities through ruthless methods, not sparing the civilian population”.

It, however, rejected suggestions that “human rights and respect for the rule of law should take second place to measures necessary to repel these hostilities”.

“Indeed, it should be emphasised that respect for human rights and the conduct of military operations in strict accordance with international humanitarian law are powerful weapons in the struggle against dissident forces and terrorism in that they help to earn the trust and support of the civilian population,” it said.

Hitting back at the decision by the IIGEP to quit, Sri Lanka’s attorney general, in a statement, said the IIGEP’s decision to quit “is unwarranted and causes unnecessary inconvenience to the government of Sri Lanka”.

“The government of Sri Lanka sees no impediment at all to the Commission of Inquiry to continue to function independently, impartially and engage in investigations and inquiries in a transparent manner and in accordance with applicable international norms and standards,” the attorney general said.

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