The Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives has expressed “deep concern” over the recent expansion of the presidential commission, which was initially found to solely investigate disappearances in the Northeast.
A recent gazette notification by the government expanded the mandate of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (COI), to include “from violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) including the recruitment of child soldiers and suicide attacks, to the criminality of financial and other resources obtained by the LTTE”.
The CPA said in a report released on Friday that it “fears for the integrity of the COI, in particular, that its primary task of investigating and inquiring into the thousands of missing persons in Sri Lanka will be severely curtailed by the present gazette”.
The presidential commission has already been dismissed by the TNA, slammed by members of the ruling coalition and criticised by the opposition UNP.
“CPA notes that the present COI was established as a result of a recommendation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commissio […] which specifically stated that in light of the magnitude and sensitive nature of the phenomenon of disappearances and abductions, a separate and dedicated mechanism should be appointed to investigate complaints of disappearances. This point was subsequently included in the National Action Plan (under 9.51) introduced by the GOSL, a framework cited regularly by the GOSL as its primary mechanism to address post-war reconciliation” the report further says.
“Moreover given the sensitivity of the information shared, CPA is concerned by the lack of victim and witness protection mechanisms that are crucial to the work of the COI. Accordingly, in the present context, the expanded mandate puts an even greater number of persons giving evidence at high risk."
The CPA also expressed concern about the appointment of the “international experts”, saying that the gazette was “deliberately vague” on the responsibilities of the experts.
Rajapaksa last week invited three international experts to the country's domestic disappearances commission, amid increasing international pressure over mass atrocities committed against Tamils in the final stages of the armed conflict.
Despite the appointment however, the government's spokesperson, Keheliya Rambukwella appeared keen to emphasise that the government retained the right to accept or reject the experts' findings.
On Tuesday the main opposition UNP expressed “serious concern” about the commission’s appointment of international experts, accusing the government of pandering to international pressure.
The main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) meanwhile rejected the appointment, stating that it had "no faith" in the commission.