Presidential powers can undermine CoI- Amnesty

[TamilNet, Thursday, 23 November 2006, 15:23 GMT]
Amnesty International said that the Commission of Inquiries (CoI) consisting of 8 Sri Lankan nationals, and the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) of foreign nationals to act as observers, as announced by Sri Lanka's President, lack "credibility and confidence of parties to the conflict and sections of the society to be able to conduct meaningful investigations, obtain critical testimony or information from witnesses and gain the acceptance of its recommendations by all relevant parties," in a report issued 17 November, and declined to nominate an AI member to stand as candidate to IIGEP.

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PDF IconAI's observations on CoI, IIEGP
Contrary to Mr Rajapakse's announcement on 4 September 2006 that Sri Lanka government would "invite an international independent commission to probe abductions, disappearances and extra-judicial killings," Mr. Rajapakse on 6 September 2006, instead announced that "he would invite an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) to act as observers of the activities of the Commission [consisting of Sri Lanka nationals] which will investigate alleged abductions, disappearances and extra judicial killings," Amnesty said.

"In light of decades of impunity for perpetrators of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, characterised by the failure of the authorities to investigate and prosecute such perpetrators effectively, only an international and independent Commission would have the credibility and confidence of all parties to the conflict and sections of society," Amnesty added.

Amesty expressed serious concerns on the functioning of the CoI established under the Commissions of Inquiry Act No. 17 of 1948. The Act grants the President the power to:
  • set the terms of reference of the CoI and appoint all its members (sec.2);
  • add new members at his/her discretion (sec. 3); revoke the warrant establishing the CoI at any time (sec. 4); and
  • appoint the Commission’s secretary (sec. 19) without needing to consult the Commission or its chairperson.
Amnesty said.

The Amnesty said further that "The decision as to whether the inquiry – "or any part thereof" is to be public also rests solely with the President (sec. 2(2)(d)). In addition, there are no provisions in the Act requiring that the reports or recommendations of the CoI are made public."

Amnesty International is concerned that these and other provisions, which grant the President a wide discretion, may undermine the independence and impartiality of the CoI, as well as the Commission’s ability to inspire public confidence and interact freely with the public. Accordingly these factors may undermine the willingness of the public to engage with the CoI and to come forward with evidence, the report said.

Amnesty called on Sri Lanka's President to add independent, impartial and competent international experts to the proposed CoI; and to ensure that the CoI’s work is developed in consultation with a representative profile of civil society, including NGOs.


External Links:
IHT: Rights group wants UN to monitor alleged Sri Lanka rights violations
SriLanka: Commission of Inquiry
AI: Observations on a Proposed Commission of Inquiry
UNHCHR: UN Expert Welcomes Proposed Sri Lanka Commission


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