By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTFRM), headed by attorney-at-law Manouri Muttetuwegama, has called for full participation of foreign judges and other personnel including defence lawyers, prosecutors and investigators in transitional justice mechanism to address accountability issues.
The eleven-member committee stressed that foreign participation was required as those who had suffered during the conflict had no faith in local judiciary, which lacked expertise to undertake such a task.
The UNP-SLFP administration appointed the group early last year in keeping with the understanding reached with the international community.
Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein declared in Colombo in February 2016 that the judiciary here was incapable of undertaking the process. He questioned the integrity of the local judiciary.
Addressing the media at the Government Information Department, Secretary to the group of activists Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said that particular recommendation had been made in accordance with the Geneva Resolution adopted in Oct, 2015. The Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) underscored the full participation of foreign personnel while emphasizing the pivotal importance of a proper selection process for both local and foreign judges and other personnel.
In addition to Muttetuwegama and Dr. Saravanamuttu, Gamini Viyangoda, Prof. Sitralega Maunaguru, Dr. Farzana Haniffa and Mirak Raheem expressed views. Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe of the Colombo University was also present though she didn’t address the media.
Muttetuwegama said a constitutional amendment would be required to pave the way for the participation of foreign judges. However, the government should take tangible measures swiftly to bring relief to those who had lost their loved ones fighting against the state. Muttetuwegama called for the restoration of LTTE cemeteries bulldozed by the military and memorials. The buildings put up in those places should be demolished, she said.
Dr. Saravanamuttu said foreign participation could be temporary. According to him, foreign presence could be gradually phased out once the process had won the confidence of the victims and other stakeholders.
Raheem denied the assertion that only Tamil speaking people from the war-ravaged Northern and Eastern Provinces demanded foreign participation and expertise. Raheem, also of the CPA said how transitional justice mechanism could immensely benefit from foreign participation in the process.
The Geneva Resolution called for foreign judges including those from the Commonwealth.
Acknowledging that President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and several other top government spokespersons had repeatedly ruled out foreign judges,the civil society members said the recommendations hadn’t been made in consultation with the government. They were responding to a query regarding the extreme difficulty in having foreign judges on a judicial mechanism here.
Muttetuwegama called media conference after having handed over the final report and executive summary on the countrywide public consultations undertaken on behalf of the government to former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at the Presidential Secretariat on January 3.
Dr. Saravanamuttu said the government hadn’t sought to influence them in anyway and the report hadn’t been prepared in consultation with the administration. He said that as their recommendations pertaining to a range of contentious issues were now in public domain, it would be the responsibility of the government to respond to them. “The ball is now in the government’s court.”
Members of the task force said that there hadn’t been any difference of opinion among the 11 members in respect of the report including its findings.
Asked by The Island whether Muttetuwegama’s inquiry also focused on Indian intervention here leading to deployment of the Indian Army here and atrocities committed by the foreign army as well as the raid on the Maldives undertaken by members of another Tamil group in Nov. 1988, Raheem said that all those who had committed atrocities should be held accountable. Raheem said that India, too, was certainly accountable for crimes committed here.
India deployed its Army (July 1987-March 1990) in accordance with Indo-Lanka agreement here.
Raheem said that some politicians, too, had been implicated along with the armed forces, police as well as intelligence services.
Dr. Saravanamuttu acknowledged that they hadn’t received a guarantee from the government that the recommendations would be implemented.
Muttetuwegama said that if a government elected by the people failed to address the long standing grievances of those who suffered during the conflict they would never be compensated in the future.
Viyangoda mentioned the events leading to the passage of Geneva Resolution in Oct 2015 and the government reaching an understanding with Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to initiate investigations into accountability issues. He asserted that the government would come under pressure to address issues in line with the Geneva Resolution.