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The Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (the Commission) was established on 15th August 2013 under Gazette No. 1823/42. Over a year into its mandate, the Commission continues to operate under circumstances that raise serious concerns in respect of the search for truth, justice and accountability in Sri Lanka. The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) depicts the Commission not only as its primary instrument to address the grievances of the families of the disappeared, but also since the expansion of its mandate, as the sole mechanism for addressing war time violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, amongst others.
The present critique by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) captures key issues and trends observed during public sittings of the Commission and the perceptions of affected communities and civil society who have observed and engaged with the present process. At the very outset CPA notes that the Commission, operating under the Commissions of Inquiry apparatus, is structurally flawed, given its dependence on the Executive for appointments, financing and follow up action. Having observed a string of failed State initiatives at transitional justice in recent years and the lack of progress with past Commissions appointed by successive governments, CPA calls for immediate steps to be taken for legal and policy reform that provides for a genuine and credible domestic process at truth seeking, justice and accountability. Failure in this regard further confirms the inability of domestic processes to address grievances in a post war context and strengthens calls for international investigations.
The brief consists of three sections. The first looks into technical issues of the present Commission and critiques the operational processes and practices of the Commission. The second explores the broader issues embedded in the structure within which the Commission operates, while the final section analyses the trend perceptions and concerns and their implications for the Commission’s work.