In November 2006, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Alleged Serious Violations of Human Rights (CoI) was established under the Commissions of Inquiry Act of 1948. The CoI holds a mandate to examine all cases of alleged human rights abuse in Sri Lanka that have occurred since August 1, 2005 with specific reference made to sixteen grievous cases, but the mandate also limits CoI as solely a fact finding process with no prosecutorial or adjudicative powers. Ultimately it can only recommend further action to the President.
Shortly thereafter in January 2007, the President invited the formation of an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) composed of various legal practitioners to observe the CoI and make recommendations for changes in accord with international norm and standards for investigations into human rights violations. The IIGEP expressed concern regarding several issues that undermine the CoI’s independence. First and foremost, although a few prominent and independent attorneys function as counsel from the “unofficial bar”, CoI’s panel of counsel from the “official bar” is composed entirely of lawyers on loan from the Attorney General’s offices. This arrangement raises a conflict of interests in that allegation of government misconduct are essentially being investigated by other interlinked government officials. Another point of concern arises from the CoI’s budget being controlled directly by the President’s office with the CoI’s proper functioning reportedly being hampered by a lack of adequate resources. Due to persistent shortcomings such as these and their recommendations of remedies being ignored, the members of the IIGEP recently announced their unanimous decision to withdraw as observers within the next month.
From the very start the public and the media have paid scant attention to the CoI’s existence or functioning in large part because the many view the CoI as primarily a public relations campaign unlikely to have any actual impact on protecting human rights or furthering justice, but also because the sessions of inquiry were initially all conducted behind closed doors. However, since the start of this year the CoI chose to hold all of its sessions of inquiries open to the public. As of yet, these public inquires have still not lead to a groundswell of public interest in the proceedings, but from observing the most recent sessions it appears that some interest may be returning.
Posted By Adam Nord (Sri Lanka)
Posted Mar 16th, 2008