Come March, US likely to back probe without foreign judges

nisha-biswal-2-720x480By Easwaran Rutnam

The visit to Sri Lanka last week by US Assistant Secretary Nisha Biswal and Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski has given the message that come March next year the US is likely to give a strong backing for an accountability process in Sri Lanka without the involvement of foreign judges.

The need to have foreign judges was first proposed last year when the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka with the backing of the government.

The proposal had the support of the United States and other countries, including Britain and others in the European Union.

However the idea of having foreign judges in Sri Lanka was not embraced by most political parties in Sri Lanka and as of late President Maithripala Sirisena has also endorsed that view.

With the current government showing political will to address accountability issues related to the war the US and other countries are now soft-pedaling on the demand to invite foreign judges.

Speaking to a few journalists on Thursday night, Malinowski said that the Sri Lankan government will determine the structure of the domestic mechanism and the international community will respect decisions taken by the current administration.

That respect stems from the fact that the government has, despite the slow pace, taken some concrete steps to bring about amendments to the law to take the accountability process forward.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which has been pushing for foreign judges to be included in the process, last week refused to make any comment on the matter after meeting Biswal.

When asked about the issue, TNA spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran said that his party will wait and see what the government puts forward instead of making comments which could derail the entire process.

The government also had support from the Muslims in the Eastern Province with Eastern Province Chief Minister Nazeer Ahamed urging Biswal when she visited Trincomalee, to ensure the US gives support to the ongoing reconciliation efforts of the government.

The US without a doubt has committed itself to give that backing. This was clear from a statement Biswal made last week.

“As the government of Sri Lanka moves ahead with its plans for constitutional reform, for justice and reconciliation, the United States will continue to partner with the government to foster economic development and encourage foreign investment, to work to advance opportunities for all Sri Lankans.

We continue to support the Government of Sri Lanka as it takes meaningful and concrete steps in response to concerns of its people related to democratic governance and advancing respect for human rights, for reconciliation, for justice and accountability.  We can envision a future which brings benefits to both countries, and to peace and prosperity and security across the Indian Ocean as Sri Lanka assumes a greater role as a key partner in this region.  As Sri Lanka assumes its great potential as a hub and a gateway to connect to a rising economic societies of South and Southeast Asia,” she said following a meeting with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

She said that while much work remains, the United States is committed to partnering with the Sri Lankan people to address challenges and help this country and its people to realise their true potential.

Malinowski echoed those views. He said that in the last few months, and in particular the last several weeks, Sri Lanka has taken very concrete steps forward in its reform, democratization, and reconciliation agenda, including through the bill to establish an Office of Missing Persons, ratifying the convention on disappearances, additional land releases by the military and through the President’s very important directive on arrests under the PTA and progress in work on the constitution.

“A lot of this work was foreshadowed in last year’s Human Rights Council resolution.  That resolution embodied commitments the Sri Lanka people have made in their own national interests to restore accountability and the rule of law to their country.  The United States was a co-sponsor of that resolution, and as such we feel we have a shared responsibility to help see this process through.  So we look forward to supporting Sri Lanka as it puts into place the remaining institutions and reforms that the resolution endorsed.  We very strongly commend the government for working closely with United Nations and High Commissioner Zeid to advance that progress,” he said.

He also noted that the people of Sri Lanka chose a government that seeks to serve all its people rather than setting them against each other and for that reason, the whole world needs Sri Lanka to succeed and to show others the way.

Meanwhile Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Secretary General V Anandasangaree wrote to President Maithripala Sirisena raising concerns over some of the proposals being made related to the investigations on the war.

In his letter Anandasangaree noted that all sorts of suggestions have been made from all types of people, some of whom seem to be claiming that they are the authorities in this subject and some others expect that only a particular group should deal with this problem.

“Since many are pulling in deferent directions it is difficult to come to a common understanding.  The UNHRC has recommended the setting up of a Hybrid special court to probe the alleged war crimes and has also advised the integration of international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, while the U.S proposes the establishment of a domestic mechanism to inquire into the war crimes. As far as the Tamil United Liberation Front is concerned, in the first instance the TULF will opt to choose the Hybrid special court to probe the alleged war crimes. But after seriously considering the type of cases that are to be probed into, the TULF feels that in the interest of the victims certain types of crimes cannot be conveniently taken up by the Hybrid special courts and vice versa,” he said.

Anandasangaree says except some uncomplicated cases, all the others will have to be decided on the merits of each case, as to whether it is the Hybrid special court or the domestic mechanism that should probe into a particular incident, to determine which a special unit could be set up.

“Although I have very justifiable reasons for giving this suggestion, the TULF does not want to decide arbitrarily and instead wants the interested parties to take a joint decision. The practice of one taking a decision and the others following should be done away with and collective decision should be insisted on. It is a great shame for the Tamil Leadership not to get united even for matters that greatly concern their community.We have to learn from other ethnic groups.Let no one pretend to be cleverer than all the others,” he added.

Anandasangaree said the most serious Human rights violations and crimes can be classified under three or four categories namely rape with torture, rape torture and murder, torture and murder, missing persons accompanied with torture or murder etc.

Since most cases of rape will include torture as well, the TULF suggests setting up of panels comprised of female judges or senior female lawyers to hold inquiries on camera to the exclusion of others and make suitable recommendations including  compensation.

Anandasangaree also said that a committee could be setup to decide on the merits of each case as to which one should be investigated by the local court or the Hybrid special court. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)