Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Statement of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights on the decision by the IIGEP


PRESS RELEASE
Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights
Sri Lanka
07th March 2008

Statement of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights on the decision by the IIGEP to wind-up their operations in Sri Lanka

The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), is a unique structure hitherto not encountered in any fact finding exercise anywhere in the world and is mandated to function over a period of one year. On 30 November 2007, the IIGEP by its letter addressed to His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa, communicated its decision to end its mandate by the end of March 2008. The IIGEP embarked on its work in February 2007 which means that, within 8 to 9 months of the commencement of its mandate, and prior to fulfilling a full year, such a decision to quit was taken.

The Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights regrets the haste with which this decision was taken, especially in the context of the public inquiries that have started and are ongoing in two important investigations, namely: the investigation into the deaths of 17 aid workers belonging to the Action Contre La Faim in Muttur and the killing of 5 youths in Trincomalee. Public inquiries into the slaying of 10 Muslim civilians in Pottuvil are also due to commence shortly.

In its public statement of 17 December 2007 the independent Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Alleged Serious Violations of Human Rights (COI) has pointed out that:

  • “The IIGEPs assert that they have attended 76 sessions of investigations of the two cases investigated, namely; the killing of 17 Aid Workers belonging to Action Contre La Faim in Muttur, and the killing of 5 youths in Trincomalee.

  • The COI notes that in fact out of the total number of 76 sessions of investigations conducted, only one member of the IIGEP has been present at 37 of these sittings while only 02 members have been present at 02 sittings and 03 members have been present at 01 sitting. (The total number of IIGEP members appointed by the President is eleven). The attempt to portray the Assistants as representatives of the IIGEP at the proceedings is contrary to the Presidential Invitation which only permits their appointment “to provide necessary assistance” to a Member of IIGEP. In any event only one or sometimes two Assistants out of 10 Assistants have been present at 76 sessions. 8 Assistants have been present at 01 session while 02 have been present at 50 sessions. Thus the IIGEP has not been present to observe over half the proceedings and therefore the credibility of any comments made by the IIGEP must necessarily suffer from the consequences of such absence.

  • The COI is of the view that the IIGEP’s attempt to observe (without a continued and uninterrupted presence of at least one member of the IIGEP) the working of the COI does not do justice to the functions entrusted to them by the Presidential Invitation and accepted by the IIGEP. The undoubted Eminence and wide experience of the IIGEP cannot be a substitute for on the ground observations by the IIGEP. Otherwise the IIGEP will be reduced to making their comments with regard to the work of the COI on the basis of hearsay which is undoubtedly contrary to international norms and will militate against the credibility and value of such comments.

  • The COI further notes that due to the lack of an adequate presence of the IIGEP at the sessions, the collective wisdom of the eleven members of IIGEP is unfortunately, not reflected in the observations of the IIGEP as was intended in the Presidential Invitation to the IIGEP.”
The Ministry has also noted that the IIGEP’s public statements have been calculatedly released whenever the Human rights Council meets in Geneva. The decision communicated in November to relinquish their mandate at the end of March has been given publicity once again to coincide with the Human Rights Council sessions even before the expiry of the IIGEP’s mandated period.

The unique concept of the IIGEP is owned by the Government of Sri Lanka and the 11 experts were appointed in their individual capacities to this unique structure with a one year mandate. Although the 11 experts to OK a decision as far back as November 2007 to relinquish their mandate at the end of March, this does not mean that the concept of the IIGEP has been dispensed with. If the present 11 experts, for whatever reason, feel that they do not want to be part of the IIGEP after the end of March, the Government of Sri Lanka may exercise its rights to source and appoint such number of experts who would be able to discharge the mandate given to the IIGEP to observe and comment on the functioning of the COI.

No doubt, if this is done, the new experts will be able to observe and contribute towards the functioning of the CoI in the most interesting and significant phase of its proceedings – viz. its public inquiries into the several important cases before it.

P. Dias Amarasinghe
Secretary, Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights

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