IIGEP questions role of AG's department in Commission

[TamilNet, Thursday, 14 June 2007, 23:28 GMT]
In the second public statement released by the Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) Thursday, the chairman P.N. Baghawati, a former chief justice of Indian Supreme Court, said that "involvement of the Attorney Generalís Department in the Commission [of Inquiry] (CoI) compromises national and international principles of independence and impartiality that are central to the credibility and public confidence of the Commission." The panel of Eminent Persons is in Sri Lanka at the invitation of Sri Lanka's President to observe and monitor the work of the CoI into the alleged cases of human rights violations and killings.

IIGEP is also mandated to make recommendations to the CoI for corrective action and to report to the President of Sri Lanka whether the investigations and inquiries conducted by the CoI are in accordance with international norms and standards.

The chairman of CoI, responding to IIGEP's public statement said that "the Commission is satisfied regarding the professional services being given to the COI by members of the Panel of Counsel from the Official Bar (Attorney Generalís Department)."

Full text of the public statement released Friday follows:

Justice P.N. Bhagwati
Justice P.N. Bhagwati
PDF IconIIEGP's Second Public Statement
Further to our previous public statement of 11 June 2007, we, the International IndependentGroup of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) are concerned that the conduct of the Presidentís Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Alleged Serious Violations of Human Rights (the Commission) is inconsistent with international norms and standards. Failure to take corrective action will result in the Commission not fulfilling its fact-finding mandate inconformity with those norms and standards.

Central to our concerns is the role of the Attorney Generalís Department in the Commission. On 27 February 2007, we raised these concerns with the Chairman of the Commission, stating that the conflict of interest arising from the involvement of the Attorney Generalís Department in the Commission compromises national and international principles of independence and impartiality that are central to the credibility and public confidence of the Commission. We urged the Commission to reconsider the role of the Attorney Generalís Department and to appoint independent counsel in its place. On 12 May 2007, the Commission conceded that the IIGEPís concerns of a conflict of interest were valid. This understanding was confirmed in writing by the IIGEP on 13 May 2007.

Contrary to this understanding, on 14 May 2007 the Chairman of the Commission publicly announced that the Attorney Generalís Department was to make a statement outlining the nature of the case currently under investigation and would lead evidence of witnesses. Despite further representations by the IIGEP on this issue, to date the role of the Attorney Generalís Department remains unchanged.

During the initial sessions of investigation and inquiry, conducted between 14 and 29 May 2007, the IIGEP observed examples of a lack of impartiality. Prior to the presentation of any evidence, when publicly outlining the case, counsel from the Attorney Generalís Department stated as fact matters which are controversial in the case. Furthermore, the witness was improperly led, material questions were not asked by the counsel from the Attorney Generalís Department and information relied on by the witness and the Attorney Generalís Department was not made available to the IIGEP. The Commission does not seem to have taken sufficient corrective measures to ensure that its proceedings are transparent and conform with international norms and standards of independence, impartiality and competence.

Throughout these initial sessions, the Commission heard one witnessí full testimony and part of a second witnessí testimony. Taking evidence in this manner will not, in our opinion, reveal the information and evidence necessary to identify perpetrators of human rights violations and enable the Commission to achieve its mandate in a timely manner.

P N Bhagwati
Chairman, IIGEP

Related Articles:
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External Links:
SriLanka: Commission of Inquiry
AI: Observations on a Proposed Commission of Inquiry
UN: Profile of Justice P.N. Bhagwati
UNHCHR: UN Expert Welcomes Proposed Sri Lanka Commission
AI: Commission of Inquiry must be independent and international



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