According to the Chairman of the Missing Persons Commission Maxwell Paranagama, the Commission, under its new mandate, despite the doubts of some Tamil political parties, is quite confident of handling investigations effectively on both missing persons and allegations of civilians killed during the war. Maxwell Paranagama told The Sunday Leaderthat the Commission is answerable only to the President but to no one else, and it is beyond their mandate to share any information or work with the UN led commission.
Excerpts of the interview:
By Waruni Karunarathne
Q: Can the Presidential Commission on Missing Persons under its new mandate handle investigation into both missing persons and civilians’ death?
A: According to the new mandate, we are to investigate whether armed forces or the LTTE had violated the International Humanitarian Law and the International Human Rights Law during the internal conflict. This is also to find out, to what extent the LTTE has used civilians as a human shield especially during the last phase of the conflict. The Commission can handle its new mandate because when we inquire into the incidents of missing persons most of the facts related to civilians’ deaths are also revealed.
Q: Does the Commission have resource it needs to conduct an investigation of this nature according to the new mandate it has been given?
A: We have the capacity and the resources. As I said, while investigating into the incidents of missing persons, most of the facts related to civilians’ deaths are also revealed. Only thing is that we have to change the questions to fall in line with the new extended mandate. The President has also appointed three international experts to look into the Commission.
Q: Is there room for this commission to share information with and work with the UN led Commission?
A: We have nothing to do with the UN led Commission. They are doing their own thing and we are doing ours. We are working independently according to our mandate. Our mandate is to inquire and investigate and to report to the President but to no one else. Unless the President says we cannot go out of what is assigned to us. He has already appointed three international experts to advise our Commission – but our mandate is not to share information or work with the UN led Commission.
Q: According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Commission on missing persons should conduct its investigation in a manner that is internationally accepted. Does your Commission need international standards in this regard?
A: Yes, we should have international standards. We do inquiries at the ground level. Over 19000 people have complained to us in writing. When we go to the ground level we receive more complaints. We carry out inquiries at the Additional Secretariat, Additional Secretary Divisions and at some village schools. Thus, we really stretch our arms to the public. You cannot say that our inquiries are second to any other. It is already up to the international standards.
Q: Do you get a sense of hope for people who you have met at the sittings so far?
A: Of cause there is a sense of hope for them. Over 19000 people have written to us and at each public sitting we get over 400 additional complaints. People have hope for some kind of answers that is why they come forward to complain. Our earlier mandate is to find out who is responsible for the missing persons and what sort of relief should be given to their families. We look into all that. There is definitely hope for them.