Intl panel quits SL rights inquiry commission

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Colombo, Mar 6: Charging the Sri Lankan government with a lack of political and institutional will to investigate cases of human rights violations, a top international panel said today quit in protest.

The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (the IIGEP) led by former Indian Chief Justice P N Bhagwati in a public statement said: ''There is a climate of threat, direct and indirect, to the lives of anyone who might identify persons responsible for human rights violations, including those who are likely to have been committed by the security forces.'' ''Civilian eye witnesses have not come forward to the Commission. Security forces' witnesses preferred to make themselves look incompetent rather than just telling what they know. Accordingly, it is evident that the Commission is unlikely to be in a position to pursue its mandate effectively,'' the IIGEP statement said describing them as inherent and fundamental impediments of the Commission.

''The IIGEP is therefore terminating its role in the process not only because of the shortcomings in the Commission's work but primarily because the IIGEP identifies an institutional lack of support for the work of the Commission,'' the IIGEP in a strongly-worded statement said.

Amid growing international condemnation over human rights violations, the IIGEP was constituted by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in February last year to oversee the investigations carried out by the Presidential Commission Inquiry tasked to look into 16 high profile human rights violations, including the killings of 17 aid workers in Tricomalee and former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

Hitting back at the decision by the IIGEP to quit, Sri Lanka's Attorney General in a statement on behalf of the Rajapaksa government, charged the IIGEP of seeking to cater for 'an international agenda to discredit Colombo as it has timed the statement to coincide with the ongoing 7th Sessions of the United Nation's Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland.' ''The timing of the release of the current Public Statement together with its contents, clearly manifests the true intentions of a majority of the current membership of the IIGP, in that what the eminent persons appear to be interested in, is to ensure an international condemnation of Sri Lanka through the expression of certain views prejudicial to the interests of Sri Lanka based on certain untested hypothesis and distorted facts and circumstances,'' the Attorney General (AG) said in the statement.

''Expression of such comments to say the least is unwarranted and is in excess of the mandate of the IIGEP,'' the AG said.

Head of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, Justice N K Udalagama said the decision by the IIGEP is ''regrettable.''

UNI

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