Wednesday, June 13, 2007

International Independent Group of Eminent Persons - Public Statement

Below is the text of the public statement made by the IIGEP. The full statement including the responses will be published on LWB soon.
International Independent Group of Eminent Persons
Public Statement

On 1 June 2007, we, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), submitted our first Interim Report to the President of Sri Lanka. The report contains our observations and concerns about the President’s Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Alleged Serious Violations of Human Rights (the Commission).

We reported to the President that the Commission has so far made hardly any noticeable progress in investigations and inquiries since its inception in November 2006. Moreover, since our formation in February 2007, we have identified and raised a number of concerns with the Commission and the Government of Sri Lanka. We remain concerned that current measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka and the Commission to address issues such as the independence of the Commission, timeliness and witness protection are not adequate and do not satisfy international norms and standards.

Independence: We are concerned about the role of the Attorney General’s Department as legal counsel to the Commission. The Attorney General’s Department is the Chief Legal Adviser to the Government of Sri Lanka. Members of the Attorney General’s Department have been involved in the original investigations into those cases subject to further investigation by the Commission itself. As such, members of the Attorney General’s Department may find that they are investigating themselves. Furthermore, it is possible that they be called as material witnesses before the Commission. We consider these to be serious conflicts of interest, which lack transparency and compromise national and international standards of independence and impartiality that are central to the credibility and public confidence of the Commission.

We are concerned that the Commission’s finances are managed by the Presidential Secretariat. The Commission does not have financial independence enabling it to exercise control of its human resources and operations. In particular, the Commission should be allocated sufficient funds to secure the permanent confidentiality, safety and integrity of its victim and witness protection scheme.

Timeliness: We are concerned that the Commission did not commence even preliminary investigations and inquiries until May 2007, despite being constituted six months earlier in November 2006. To date, internal processes have not been transparent; no detailed work plan has been announced; essential staff have not yet been fully recruited; investigative and witness protection units are not functioning; and significantly, evidence already known to be in the possession of Governmental bodies relating to the cases has not been gathered and transmitted to us. Such unnecessary delays undermine public confidence in the ability of the
Commission to carry out its mandate in a timely manner.

Witness protection: We are concerned that there are no adequate victim and witness protection provisions under Sri Lankan law. We are of the view that witness protection is absolutely essential in order to investigate serious violations of human rights that are within the Commission’s mandate. Appropriate legislation that accords with international norms and standards should be enacted and implemented as soon as possible to protect victims and witnesses.

We regret that the Commission still has no functioning victim and witness protection mechanism. In the absence of appropriate legislation, an effective scheme or functioning protection unit, we fail to understand how the Commission could have invited the public, as it did as recently as 14 May 2007, to come forward and give evidence. As the Commission is operating without witness protection legislation, it is unable to guarantee the safety and security of witnesses. Summoning and examining potential victims and witnesses may create fear in their minds about safety and security, deterring them from coming forward to give

Mandates: The Presidential Warrant limits the scope of the Commission to a retrospective and fact finding role. The core work of the Commission is to obtain information, investigate and inquire into alleged serious violations of human rights arising since 1 August 2005, including 16 specific cases; and to examine prior investigations into these cases. The Commission is required to make findings and report to the President on the facts and circumstances pertaining to each case; the descriptions, nature and backgrounds of the victims; the circumstances that may have led to, or resulted in, those persons suffering such deaths, injury or physical harm; the identities, descriptions and backgrounds of the persons and groups responsible for the commission of deaths and other acts; measures of reparation to be provided to the victims; and ecommendations in order to prevent the occurrence of incidents in the nature of those investigated and any other recommendations considered as relevant.
The IIGEP, comprising of 11 Members, has been invited by the President to observe the investigations and inquiries of the Commission, in order to ensure transparency and observance of international norms and standards. The IIGEP does not have a mandate to conduct independent investigations and inquiries; nevertheless, we are open to all persons who wish to provide information and evidence on the cases under review by the Commission.

Although we are obliged by the Presidential Invitation to transmit third party information to the Commission, it would not be right for us to disclose any information without the consent of the third party, or which may impair the safety or security of such third parties until we are satisfied that effective, functioning and credible witness protection measures are in place. We regret that public statements from State officials are creating the misleading impression that the Commission and IIGEP have wide mandates and powers and the resources to address ongoing alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka. This is not the case. In the current context, in particular, the apparent renewed systematic practice of enforced disappearance and the killings of Red Cross workers, it is critical that the Commission and IIGEP not be portrayed as a substitute for robust, effective measures including national and international human rights monitoring.

P N Bhagwati
Chairman, IIGEP

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