Foreign experts at public sittings

Tamil women hold images of their disappeared relativesThe Chairman of Sri Lanka’s Presidential Commission into disappeared people said the probe will only be able to provide details of individuals involved in such cases, and will not be able to make decisions on punishments.

Chairman Maxwell Paranagama said any decisions on punitive measures can only be taken by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Attorney General.

The three foreign experts appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to assist the Missing Persons’ Commission will participate at the public sittings to be held in Kilinochchi from September 27 to 30, a senior Commission source said yesterday. Commission Chairman Maxwell Paranagama told Daily Mirror the Commission would invite the three experts Sir Desmond De Silva QC, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC and Prof. David Crane to attend the sittings as observers. He said the three foreign experts would not be permitted to intervene in the proceedings or inquiries. Mr. Panaragama pointed out that although the new international advisory panel was appointed by the commission, the panel will not become “a stakeholder” in the probe.

Mr. Paranagama said during the public sittings at Kilinochchi, Mannar and Jaffna the Commission felt that the advice of a panel of foreign experts with experience and expertise on investigations into violations of Human Rights (HR) and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) would help make the Commission sittings more transparent and accountable.

Mr. Paranagama said the Commission was mandated to inquire and report on the incidences of war crimes if any; to find out who was responsible; to take legal action against the violators of HR and IHL and recommend steps to be taken to prevent a repetition and provide relief to war victims. Mr. Paranagama said it would take several years to conclude investigations on all complaints and issue a final report.

The Missing Persons’ Commission has received 19,284 complaints from the next of kin of those gone missing. Some 5,600 of these complaints were from families of armed forces’ personnel. The Commission has processed some 1,000 cases up to now. He said the Commission would also inquire into whether the loss of civilian life constitutes collateral damage of a kind that occurs when carrying out attacks against targeted military objectives during armed conflicts and was expressly recognised under the laws of armed conflict and international humanitarian law and whether such civilian casualties were either the deliberate or unintended consequences of the rules of engagement during the armed conflict in Sri Lanka.

We expect the foreign experts to attend the public hearings as observers and gain some knowledge so that they will be in a position to advise us more clearly when we require their advice,’ Mr. Paranagama said.The panel of foreign experts was appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on July 15.
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