Sri Lanka's justice minister said the country was prioritising reconciliation, and would conduct a domestic inquiry into allegations of war crimes committed against the Tamil people during the final stages of the armed conflict only "if required".
The government, led by Maithripala Sirisena, pledged in its pre-election campaign to launch a domestic inquiry.
However, in an interview this week to BBC Sinhala, the country's justice minister, Wijayadasa Rajapakshe, said: "We are ready to conduct a domestic inquiry if required."
"Previously, the agreement with the international community was that the LLRC would be the domestic mechanism and that the international mechanism would be based on the Darusman report. The current problem arose after the Darusman report. We are trying to prioritize reconciliation—how to mend the broken link between the Sinhala and Tamil people. Our objective is to take necessary steps that would not harm reconciliation," he said, adding that the government was in discussions with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) regarding this.
See interview here. Questions regarding the inquiry have been translated below:
BBC Sinhala: An important issue that has attracted international attention is the subject of the investigations into allegations of war crimes. The Tamils are requesting an international investigation; the government says it will conduct a domestic inquiry. Have there been any steps taken regarding this?
Wijayadasa Rajapakshe: This is a long and complicated issue. What really should have been done about war crimes is conduct a domestic inquiry according to international laws and thereafter take necessary legal action. But during the time of the previous Government the former President came to an agreement with the Secretary- General of the UN four days after the end of the war —even while we were not signatories to the Rome statute— agreeing to a domestic inquiry and also consenting to an international mechanism. It had already gone too far when we came to power. But the international community has enormous trust in the President and the Prime Minister. So, accepting our request for more time in order for us to discuss about this issue and to come to an agreement, the UNHRC report has been postponed by 6 months. But, meanwhile, we are confident—by nationally establishing democracy and good governance in our country we are making progress in bringing about reconciliation between ethnicities and religious groups and we hope to solve a lot of issues through discussions through building confidence.
BBC Sinhala: Will you not be conducting a domestic inquiry then?
Wijayadasa Rajapakshe: We are ready to conduct a domestic inquiry if required. Firstly, LLRC was appointed and a report obtained through it as a precursor to a domestic mechanism. Secondly, a three- man committee, led by Sir Desmond De Silva, was appointed by the previous government. Since this committee has already completed a majority of its work we will inspect its report and discuss it with the relevant stakeholders. Then we will come to a decision.
BBC Sinhala: This domestic inquiry based on the LLRC report and, according to you, based on the report and recommendations of the Desmond De Silva committee—will it have powers of prosecution or will it be of a truth seeking nature?
Wijayadasa Rajapakshe: We expect it to be of a truth seeking nature. All other countries have initially carried out truth seeking mechanisms.
BBC Sinhala: So, according to you the government has no plans to establish a special commission or a special inquiry? The government will look at experiences and lessons learnt from previous reports and their recommendations and take necessary steps
Wijayadasa Rajapakshe: We have not come to such a conclusion yet. The government remains very open. We expect to come to an agreement after going through the recommendations that are given to us and discussing with the relevant stakeholders—because we are already in very positive discussions with the Tamil MPs representing the North and Eastern provinces. Because, they are after all the representatives of the Tamil people.
BBC Sinhala: Hundreds or even thousands of LTTE suspects are still in detention in places like Boossa without any charges being filed against them. There seems to be no official documentation regarding these detainees and their numbers. The Tamil people have demanded that, at least, documentation of the detainees be provided?
Wijayadasa Rajapakshe: Regarding this issue, the government made inquiries immediately after taking office. We are taking necessary steps regarding this. There are 182 such detainees at Welikada. I have already appointed a committee led by the Additional Solicitor General of the AG's Department to go through the relevant reports and documents about these detainees and submit recommendations to me. We are waiting for this report. We expect to release detainees against whom there is no sufficient evidence and pursue legal action against those with sufficient evidence.
BBC Sinhala: Are those the only detainees as far as you know?
Wijayadasa Rajapakshe: We have requested for a report about other such detainees also. We will get the report in a few days. Most of those in prison have been convicted. However, those that I mentioned a while ago, the 182, are suspects or those taken into custody on Detention Orders.
BBC Sinhala: Jeyakumary Balendran who went looking for her missing son has been in detention at Boossa for approximately an year. Yesterday, she was re- remanded again. No charges have been filed against her. If she has committed a wrong why have no charges been filed against her? If not, why has she not been released?
Wijayadasa Rajapakshe: That is why we have requested for recommendations and findings from the AG's Department and the Prisons Department. We will make a decision very soon.
BBC Sinhala: I will again momentarily revert to the allegations of war crimes—at this point the government has no plans to establish a new domestic inquiry? Is that what you mean?
Wijayadasa Rajapakshe: We are ready to establish such an inquiry if required. Previously, the agreement with the international community was that the LLRC would be the domestic mechanism and that the international mechanism would be based on the Darusman report. The current problem arose after the Darusman report. We are trying to prioritize reconciliation—how to mend the broken link between the Sinhala and Tamil people. Our objective is to take necessary steps that would not harm reconciliation. We are also discussing with the TNA about this.
BBC Sinhala: Has the TNA agreed to this?
Wijayadasa Rajapakshe: There has been no agreement. We are in discussion with them.
BBC Sinhala: So the government's objective mainly is to seek the truth and establish reconciliation through seeking truth?
Wijayadasa Rajapakshe: No, we are prioritizing reconciliation. Our objective is to carry out steps that would not harm reconciliation. Both the President, Prime Minister and everyone else in the government are working together. Hence, we are confident that we would be able to cordially solve many of these issues.