‘More Questions Than Answers’ – Suren Surendiran

GTF SurenWhile the Government feels it has achieved something more by expanding the mandate of the Missing Persons Commission to investigate war crimes and appointing three foreign experts to oversee the probe, the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) feels it is not enough. GTF spokesman Suren Surendiran says more questions than answers have surfaced following the Government announcement. He also notes that historically such Sri Lankan commissions have failed to meet the expectations of the families of the victims and the international community.

Excerpts of the interview:

By Easwaran Rutnam

Q: What does the GTF think about the new mandate given to the missing person’s commission?

A: The view remains the same that only an impartial independent international investigation can establish the truth and serve justice. The predicament for President Rajapaksa and his Government is that they themselves are being accused. When an alleged party to crimes is involved in the decision making process of choosing the investigators or the counsel of advisors and their terms of reference for the investigation, that may not be impartial.

Why did President Mahinda Rajapaksa take more than five years to appoint and/or expand the mandate? Why did he now believe that there is a reason for increasing the mandate to investigate whether war crimes were committed? Why did the Government publicly accept an army investigation that exonerated the military from all charges only a few months ago to now accept the President’s decision to increase the mandate to include war crimes investigation too?

These will be the questions the thousands of victims and the general public will want the two most powerful people in the country to answer.

Q: Is there room for the diaspora to share information on the war with the Presidential Commission?

A: When we do not have any faith in the commission or its limited mandate, why would anyone even consider being engaged in such a flawed process? The answer to your question is ‘No’.

Q: Will the appointment of the three foreign experts give the Presidential Commission credibility?

A: None whatsoever, I am afraid. Firstly, apparently the decision to increase the mandate to include war crimes and the appointment of three foreign legal experts happened without following due process. The Sri Lankan Parliament wasn’t informed or this decision put for debate and a vote, nor did the cabinet apparently was informed. All these after protesting at the UN Human Rights Council for appointing an investigation as interference in an internal affair and calling it a threat to the sovereignty of Sri Lanka, the President appoints a group of international experts to oversee a local commission. At the same time, senior cabinet ministers say that the advisory panel could only advice but the President and the government have the final say to either listen to or reject any such advice given. Why anyone with basic understanding of law, governance, controls and due processes would consider these appointments as giving any more credibility to an already discredited commission?

Also these appointments must be viewed in the context and history of this government, which has appointed several (e.g. APRC) commissions in the past but have ignored all their findings and recommendations and never even published these to the public. This is the same government that appointed the IIGEP (International independent Group of Eminent Persons) back in 2007/2008 and after several attempts to do their job, finally in early 2008 the team left the country terminating their work after being frustrated by the lack of political and institutional will by the government.

Q: In your view do you see the UN or local investigations process actually ensuring justice for the victims of the war?

A: The UN process will and must if the UN had to maintain any credibility. This, after letting down several tens of thousands of innocent people died in vein and their friends and families.

UN Secretary General himself has gone on record admitting that mistakes were made and the UN on its watch, during the war, could have taken many steps including going public loud and clear with the real ground reality. It could have saved several thousands of life that were unnecessarily lost in the hands of a very few including a president of the country.

Q: Some feel that the whole process is unfair as it fails to properly investigate crimes committed against civilians by the LTTE. What is your opinion on that?

A: I disagree. The UNHRC Resolution clearly mandates the OHCHR to investigate alleged crimes committed by both sides.

GTF has consistently called for any independent investigation to include alleged crimes committed by both sides.

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