Image courtesy Sri Lanka: One Island, Two Nations. The following letter was sent to Groundviews by a reader with the following covering note:
The letter I send you is from a Collective of Families of Disappeared Persons who engaged in the Sri Lankan government’s disappearences commission. It highlights a number of problems in the commission process. The government has promised to carry out a number of LLRC recommendations, including a “critical” recommendation to establish a commission to investigate disappearances. The information in this letter indicates that the commission’s investigative process is seriously flawed.
Presidential Commission to Inquire into the
Complaints regarding Missing Persons,
9/9, Suranimala Place,
Hearings of the Commission to Inquire into the Complaints regarding Missing Persons
We are thankful to the members of the Presidential Commission and His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapakse for (trying to address the grievances of the family’s members of disappeared persons, through appointing a Commission to take all possible measures to ensure their fate is known and their families informed.
Nevertheless, we should bring to your attention that a number of concerns previously raised by Us and various groups have not been yet properly addressed. In particular, we remind you our request to broaden the Commission’s mandate in order to investigate disappearances throughout the whole of Sri Lanka and not only in the period comprised between 1990-2009; to invite the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; to allocate adequate funds and means to the commissioners to fulfill their mandate (and to enact a legislation on witnesses and victims protections.
In addition to this, we would like to bring to your attention our observations and related concerns for the ongoing proceeding after the first round of hearings in Kilinochchi on January 18-21, as well as for the unclear process that took place in parallel in the same district to issue death certificates and pay reparations to family members of enforcedly disappeared and missing persons.
In particular, the Collective of the Families of the Disappeared Persons would like to draw your attention to the following facts:
- We observed that starting from November 2013 military personnel alleging to represent the Commission have gathered data from family members of disappeared, registered them, and requested them to sign English forms, which they did despite not understanding the content of the document. The Commission should ensure that military personnel are not involved at all in the process, whereas civilian officials such as the Grama Sevaka should be employed in this role and trained how to provide families with the necessary information. Since military personnel are now privy to details of family members of the disappeared, it would be essential to provide family members with a framework of witness protection, considering that the same military personnel may have been involved in enforced disappearances.
- We were informed that the representatives of the Legal Aid Commission were not granted the access to the hearings, despite being officially invited by the Commission itself. Officials who identified themselves as representatives of the Ministery of Defense prevented the L.A.C. from observing the process from January 19 onwards. We call upon the Commissioners to uphold the independence of the process and be the sole authority in relation to the decision making.
- The Commission did not clarify and communicated the criteria adopted to select which cases have to appear before the Commission and in priority order of priority. We warmly suggest to make clear on which basis the cases have been chosen and to establish and made public a timeline for the hearings of all cases.
- We observed that State counsels from the Attorney General’s Department assisting the commissioners in compiling data provided by family members. (We also know if the commission decides to take any leagel action through Habeas Corpus, It is the same AG’s department appears against the petitioner ( Family member ) on behalf of the Government.. This is giving rise to a conflict of interest situation harmful to due process of justice. For this reason, we recommend that the Commission in future will employ only officials that can adhere to their duty in an impartial manner safeguarding norms of due process.
- We were informed that some officials from Ministry of Defense were also present and attending the inquiries.. If it is so it will definitely effect the petitioners.. They should be not involved in any activity of the commission.
- We observed that at the hearings the Commission did not dispose of an adequate number of Tamil speaking officials, and therefore had to appeal to impromptu interpreters, which affected the information gathering process. In particular, we noticed that: their number was inadequate; they were providing only summary interpretations, incomplete and inaccurate; they preempted answers to questions; they even argued with complainants and were often hostile with testifying family members. Furthermore, the testimonies have been systematically transcribed in English preventing the families from checking the recorded information.
In regard to the process that took place in parallel to issue death certificates and pay reparations to family members of enforcedly disappeared and missing persons, we would like to draw your attention on the following facts:
We observed that on January 13 and 17 family members of disappeared persons from Kilinochchi district were visited in their homes by officials alleging to represent the Commission. These officials requested and recorded the personal information of their disappearances’ cases. Later on, those families were summoned on January 20 to the Harmony Centre in Kilinochchi Town, where they were escorted in military busses by police officers. There they met representatives of the Ministry of Economic Development; Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs; Ministry of Social Services; Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Industries Authority; Samurdhi Authority; Department of Labor; the Department for Registration of Persons. The family members were informed that they would be offered compensation for their missing or disappeared relatives. They were requested to fill in another form provided by the Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Industries Authority, in order to obtain amounts ranging from Rs. 100,000 to 300,000 based on each individual case. According to our information, only nine families accepted to sign the form and got the compensation along with a death certificate. On the very same day, these family members were transferred to Iranamadu, Kilinochchi district, to attend a ceremony officiated by Member of Parliament for the Hambanthota District Hon. Namal Rajapakse, and Sri Lanka Freedom Party organizer for the Killinochchi District Ms. Geethanjali Naguleswaran. During the ceremony of the family members were given a cheque of Rs. 100,000 each.
We would like to know if the Commission was aware of this process, and whether it comes under the mandate of the Commission itself. No official information was provided to the public, and we would like to question the legal framework of the Harmony Centre process.
In conclusion, we would like to express our concern also for the fact that so far the Commission has not provided any information concerning the follow up of the hearings to verify and document the disappearances cases. We would like to know which means have been allocated to the Commission for this purpose and the timeline of the process. Based on our observation, during the hearings in Kilinochchi only a minimum percentage of the disappearances cases – less than 150 – submitted to the Commission could be heard.
Family members of disappeared persons, associations of family members, and civil society organizations are willing to work with the Commission to document the truth and address their grievances only if it is done according to international standards.
Signed – K.J. Brito Fernando
Collective of the Families of the Disappeared Persons,
555, Negombo Road,
Copy: His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse, The President of the Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka