The Sunday Leader

Probes Complete On 2,700 Complaints PCICMP Chairman

By Waruni Karunarathne

 

The Presidential Commission Investigating Cases of Missing Persons (PCICMP) has come under criticism throughout its operation, especially from civil society organizations and those who have been working with the families of the disappeared. They have viewed the commission as a ludicrously futile domestic investigation set merely to show attempts to bring about reconciliation without genuine intentions to do so. Despite these claims, speaking to The Sunday Leader, Chairman of the Commission, Maxwell Paranagama, said the Commission is doing its best to find the whereabouts of those disappeared and explained the current state of the investigations. 

Following are excerpts of the interview:

 

Q:How far have you conducted the investigations into complaints of missing persons?
A: Well, the investigations are ongoing. The team appointed under the Commission to further investigate into the cases has also started their investigations. They recently made a visit to the prisons. They are collecting information from the Tamil detainees to track down whereabouts of missing persons.

 

 Q: With reference to public sittings, how far have you finished hearing the complaints lodged with the commission?

A: We have completed hearing about 2,700 complaints. On the 22nd of this month, there will be another public sitting in Batticaloa. We will be submitting the report pertaining to our second mandate on war time violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Laws to the President within the next two weeks. The final report on the second mandate is already being compiled and within the next two weeks, we will finalize it for submission. When it comes to our first mandate regarding the missing persons, we need more time. There are about 20,000 complainers out of which about 5,600 complaints are from the security forces and 16,500 from the North and the East. We might compile another interim report on our first mandate to be submitted with the final report of the second mandate.

 

Q:Would you at least be able to give us a time  duration as to when will you finish completing the first mandate given to you?

A: We have completed the second mandate, but as for the first mandate, I cannot quite give a time duration. There is still a large amount of work to be done.

 

Q: Do you think the investigations have been up to international standards?

A: Well, we have recruited experienced retired police officers and also those who have a sound knowledge and experience in this kind of investigations for our investigation team. The investigation is overseen by another retired high court judge to ensure that the investigations are done properly. I do not know about the international standards. I am not an international expert. According to the standards I have known, I am satisfied with the standards we are maintaining.

 

Q: How many sub-committees are currently under your Commission?

A: Our Commission is now increased to five commissioners. Initially we had only three commissioners – and now we have added two more to expedite the hearings. Earlier, we used to complete hearing 200 to 250 cases per day during the public sittings. Now we are able to complete 850 to 1,000 cases per day during our public sittings. In addition, we recently appointed an investigating team under the Commission to investigate the cases that we refer. They are tasked to produce a report to us on the given cases. Our task is to submit that to the President so that he could refer that to the Attorney General for necessary action.

 

Q:Do you think the commis sion received enough support from the Prisons and the Ministry of Justice to carry out the tasks related to the commission?

A: We have received necessary cooperation from them. A few people claimed that their missing family members were in prisons based on some photo evidence. We managed to get them necessary permissions to facilitate their visits to those prisons to have a look at the detainees – thus giving them the opportunity to identify if their missing family members were there in prisons as they claimed. However, those missing people were not there. They must have been misled by some similarities in their faces.

We also have received the list of names of all in Sri Lankan prisons such as Boosa and various other places. We are currently matching the names in that list with the list of missing persons. Some matters have to be referred for further investigations because at the time of the arrests, some of them had given names that were used during the war, which are different from their original names or the names known by their families. Even when those people were admitted to hospitals, they most probably had given names that were used for the war-related work. So there are certain difficulties in matching the names and our task is to investigate further. We are trying our level best to find out the whereabouts of those people who had gone missing. That is our main mission. Besides, a lot of people had gone overseas as refugees. We wrote to the Foreign Ministry asking them to get information from other countries on Sri Lankan refugees, but according to the rules and regulations, they do not divulge such information on refugees. We can again appeal to get such information.

 

Q: Sometime back, various individuals and civil society members compiled a report with a list of concerns related to the operations of the Missing Persons Commission and submitted their recommendations to the Commission. How far have you been able to address those concerns?

A: Various organizations have been accusing that the process of hearing the cases is very slow. We accept that there were some delays. That is why we added more commissioners to the Commission. Earlier, all the commissioners were sitting together for the public hearings – now we are hearing cases separately to expedite the process. When it comes to translators, it is very difficult to get translators. But we have recruited retired people from parliament and some elderly people who have experience in translating in various centres. Issues related to the mandates were also raised. They mainly raised issues pertaining to the last phase of the war – from January to the 19th of May, 2009. We have looked at those matters.

 

 Q: What do you think of the current level of witness protection in Sri Lanka? Do you think new laws should be introduced to strengthen witness protection in the country?

A: I was in the judiciary. I have never got a complaint saying that witnesses were threatened or prevented from coming to give evidence. Once in a way when people are pressing charges against them, some may have passed some remarks. But there weren’t complaints of any threat as such. During the hearing of the Missing Persons Commission, we have never received any complaints regarding threats preventing them from giving evidence. We have heard 2,700 cases and none of the witnesses lodged any complaints of threats. However, if the Witness Protection Pill is passed, that would be good. Such safety measures will be important in the future.

1 Comment for “Probes Complete On 2,700 Complaints PCICMP Chairman”

  1. These guys are dragging their feet and have no sense of time.Nothing but a cover up as usual.The perpetrators from the very first JVP uprising in 71 have gone scott free for international human rights violations.One example is the Aluthgama JMO report saying that a bullet wound being classified as a knife wound. so much for integrity.

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