A COMMENTARY ONTHE PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE MISSING PERSONS

6 March 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has closely monitored previous Commissions of Inquiry (CoI) appointed by the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and recommended policy alternatives in the search for truth, justice and accountability. While CPA acknowledges the need to have credible domestic processes, the present framework does not provide for an independent inquiry. As such, CPA at the outset calls for legislative reform to amend the present Commission of Inquiry Act to ensure that future CoIs are independent and free from the interference of the Government and its agents. CPA also calls for the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and for domestic legislation to be brought in line with international standards.

The present document consists of two sections. Section “A” briefly examines the shortcomings of the CoI mechanism in general in the context of the existing legal and constitutional framework. This section draws on the substantial body of work previously done by CPA in relation to CoIs in the past.

In this document CPA has broadly highlighted the underlying shortcomings of the CoI mechanism in Sri Lanka, calling into question its legitimacy and independence, as control over appointments, formulation of mandates and functions are all powers deeply embedded within the Executive. CPA believes that there needs to be societal and victims’ consultation throughout the CoI process in order for it to be an inclusive one that assures confidence in the system. Furthermore, all CoI reports should be made available to the public, thereby complementing the process with transparency.

Section “B” examines the latest commission appointed on disappearances. Several concerns are raised and recommendations are made to address these concerns. The concerns and recommendations highlighted are made in the spirit of constructive engagement. CPA urges the Commission to consider these recommendations when designing its future work plan and their specific inclusion in the interim report to be handed over to the President.

CPA’s specific examination of the ongoing work of this CoI, leads us to the conclusion that on the basis of its formulation and current operation, the Commission is incapable of carrying out a comprehensive, independent and transparent inquiry.

The issue of missing persons and the connected social and psychological challenges confronting families of missing persons pose serious challenges to reconciliation in a post war setting. It is hoped that the Commission will continue its functions mindful of these challenges. Similar initiatives in the past have failed to ensure victims’ right to truth and justice. The present Commission, beset by structural flaws and the specific concerns regarding its functioning, does not inspire confidence that it will prove to be any different. CPA urges therefore that the Commission takes onboard the proposed recommendations to provide victims and affected communities with much needed redress and to make the call for much needed reform in the search for truth, justice and accountability in Sri Lanka.

Download the full report here or read it online here.

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Centre for Policy Alternatives

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) was formed in 1996 in the firm belief that there is an urgent need to strengthen institution- and capacity-building for good governance and conflict transformation in Sri Lanka and that non-partisan civil society groups have an important and constructive contribution to make to this process. Focusing primarily on issues of governance and conflict resolution, CPA is committed to programmes of research and advocacy through which public policy is critiqued, alternatives identified and disseminated.

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