The Sunday Leader

‘Protests In East Baseless’

The Presidential Commission to investigate matters related to Missing Persons dismisses the claims of Tamils who staged a protest recently in Eastern Sri Lanka against the public sittings held in Trincomalee.

 

By Waruni Karunarathne

Speaking to The Sunday Leader the Secretary to the Commission, H. W. Gunadasa said that the protest was staged on baseless facts. However he added that the commission summoned a few representatives of the protesters and discussed the matters with them. He dismissed the claims of the protesters who questioned the effectiveness and credibility of the process followed by the commission. “If people did not rely on the commission, such a large number of complainers would not have turned up to the commission to give their evidences and to submit their grievances,” he added.

According to him, they receive a large number of new complaints at each sitting and therefore there is no question of reliability of the commission. He explained that among the complaints received, there is only 25 % of complaints that come under their investigation criteria as many complaints are to do with other matters. However he added that the commission does not turn away any person without hearing their complaints even if that does not fall under their mandate. He said that the commission has to spend at least half an hour to listen to one complaint.

“The commission was established initially to look into the matters of missing persons from 1990 to 2009 but was later given the mandate to investigate into incidents from 1983 to 2009 and the commission was asked to provide possible relief to grieving parties. “Some NGOs have claimed that there are over 100,000 disappearances and when we asked them to submit a list of names of those disappeared; they only managed to produce a list of about 3400 names. Those NGOs are having different interests. It would be better if they could give us their support without discouraging the process,” he added.

According to him, the commission had held a meeting with the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Human Rights Council (HRC) at the Ministry of External Affairs last week and had discussed about compiling a database with the information on missing persons that are in possession with these individual organisations. He added that the commission has already started the compilation of the database. “We also expect to continue our public sittings and hold at least one round of sitting every month” he added.

Chairman of the Commission Maxwell Paranagama added that the commission intends to hand over their interim report on the 18th of this month. He also said that at the last round of public sittings held in Trincomalee district from 28th of February to 3rd of March, the commission heard over 280 cases covering 12 Grama Sevaka divisions. According to him, there will be several more public sittings during their extended time period up to 15th August.

Meantime, Fr. V. Yogeswaran, Centre for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Trincomalee added that the protest was staged against the presidential commission to investigate the matters related to missing persons based on several reasons. He explained that the commission was established in 2013 by the old regime under the pressure of the UN and then after one and half years they extended its mandate. “Earlier the commission was appointed to investigate disappearances from 1990 to 2009 and later it was extended to look in to the matters from 1983 to 2009 with extra responsibility to look into international human rights law violation,” he added. Therefore he said that the commission lost focus – during the 10 to 11 public sittings conducted during the time of the former government, they had only heard little over 2000 cases out of 20,000 complaints they had received. He questioned as to how long it would take for the commission to complete the hearing and to take appropriate measures to address the grievances of the people.

He further pointed out that even though four international experts were appointed by the former president, it was never disclosed as to what their role was. He also complained about the amount of intimidations witnesses had undergone at the hearing sessions. “People complained about conducting hearings with the CID present. Even though the witness protection bill was passed in the parliament there had not been any improvement in the ground reality to provide protection to the witnesses,” Fr. Yogeswaran added.

According to him, some people who had given evidence had shown their concern over them being photographed and videoed. He also highlighted the issues related to translations and there had been instances where compensation or some sort of assistance was given to some people but the ground on which it was given was not clear. He added that with reference to these concerns, the commission does not seem to serve the purpose of the people. Therefore he insisted that what Tamil people want is a credible mechanism to investigate into disappearances to give them reliable answers to their questions – since the local process has not proven credibility they wish to have a team of UN to investigate into this matter.

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