Questions Raised On Missing Persons Commission

In a letter addressed to Chairman of the Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons Maxwell Paranagama, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternative Dr P. Saravanamuttu has raised several new concerns over the work and progress of the Commission.

Saravanamutttu noted that the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has monitored and engaged with the Presidential Commission to Investigate Into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (COI) since its appointment in 2013 – and based on their observations has raised concerns about protection and procedural issues such as witness protection, translations and investigations. In the spirit of constructive engagement, he said that CPA has raised several new concerns related to the interim report handed over to the president, nature of public and private sittings and status of investigations.

7-1According to Saravanamuttu although the interim report of the Missing Persons Commission was said to have been handed to President Maithripala Sirisena on 10 April 2015, this document is yet to be made public.

“CPA is concerned with the lack of transparency regarding this report which one hopes sheds light on the progress of the work of the COI, any investigations that have commenced, future plans and other related issues. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) publicly issued interim recommendations in September 2010, thereby raising issues that required urgent attention by the State.

Given this precedent, CPA urges that the COI make public its interim report and commence a dialogue on key issues with the necessary parties including government agencies, victims, families and civil society,” CPA demanded.

Further, according to Saravanamuttu CPA has learnt that several military officials including Major General Jagath Dias and Major General Kamal Gunaratne have been interviewed by the Commission. According to him, some media reports also state that Major General Shavendra Silva is to be interviewed by the commission upon his return to Sri Lanka. “While the COI has a mandate to offer sittings either in public or private, CPA is concerned with the secrecy of the latter and those conducted so far. Our concern is compounded by the non-availability of the option of a private sitting for all the victims, families and witnesses who have come before the COI (the Commission). This in a context when some of them have faced security issues,” he expressed his concerns.

Meanwhile, he added that there is also concern regarding the status of investigations, if any, initiated by the Commission. “Although media reports indicate to the COI highlighting the issue of investigations, there is no information publicly available on whether investigations have commenced and on the nature and scope of such investigations. CPA urges the COI to publicly share the status of investigations and plans for the future,” he demanded.

With the concerns raised presently and previously by CPA regarding the mandate and operation of the Commission, Saravanamuttu questioned whether there is genuine willingness by the Government to address issues of truth, justice and reparations.

CPA also noted that according to media reports the commission is to issue its final report in August which however according to the clarifications of the Commission deals with the expanded mandate of the Commission to look into matters beyond disappearances, i.e. International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law violations. “As on numerous occasions, the COI’s focus has thus shifted from its original mandate to conduct investigations and of truth seeking on the issue of disappearances, to now looking into other matters. Such developments highlight that the new Government too is relying on the tactics of the former regime to delay any independent and credible truth and justice mechanisms,” Saravanamuttu stated.

In the letter, CPA also expressed concerns over the thousands of complaints that have yet to be heard and processed by the Commission and as to whether any information will be shared with the victims, families and affected communities who have testified before it. CPA urged that more information on the process and future plans be released to the public and that that any future process and mechanism are victim-centered, transparent and inclusive.

Last Friday when The Sunday Leader contacted Chairman of the Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons Maxwell Paranagama, he said that he had not yet received the letter addressed by CPA. However he said that the interim report had already been submitted to the President and the commission is answerable to the President alone – therefore it is up to the President to decide if the report will be released to the public or not. “Besides we have issued a media statement highlighting the content and recommendations of the interim report for the public knowledge. It is up to the President to decide whether the report will be released to the public or not,” he explained.

Paranagama also noted that the Commission has the mandate to conduct public or private interviews and there is a provision given to them under the Inquiries Act that allow them to do so. With reference to the interviews on Major General Jagath Dias, Major General Kamal Gunaratne and Major General Shavendra Silva, he said anyone who wants to give evidence to the Commission privately are allowed to do so. The commission was established under the Extraordinary Gazette No 1823/42 dated 15-08-2013 under the provision of section 2 of the Commission of Inquiry Act and in the gazette notification it was declared that the provisions of Section 14 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act shall apply to the Commission which gives special immunity for witnesses. According to Paranagama anyone can ask to give evidence in camera.

He also added that 2 additional commissioners are to be appointed to the commission and further investigations will be conducted. “The counselling sessions for people will start in immediate future. And another public sitting will be held in Muthur and Trinco during the last week of this month,” he added.