Int’l assistance required to probe war crimes

-Former Justice Secy


Nihal Jayawickrema

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former Justice Ministry Secretary Dr Nihal Jayawickrema has strongly supported the engagement of international experts in the proposed war crimes investigations in accordance with a resolution adopted at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Dr Jayawickrema said that the government of Sri Lanka should accept international assistance.

The internationally recognised academic was delivering the Dr P. R. Anthonis Memorial Oration 2016 titled ‘Healing the Nation-A Question of Leadership’ at the Sasakawa Memorial Cultural Centre Auditorium on Wednesday (May 11).

Dr Jayawickrema underscored the responsibility on the part of the government to examine the possibility of effectively probing, prosecuting and trying war crimes accusations including crimes against humanity. However, the contentious issue was whether Sri Lanka had the capability to engage in such a task for want of resources, Dr. Jayawickrema said.

Sri Lanka’s accountability will be raised in Geneva next month. While referring to serious allegations mentioned in an OHCHR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) report on Sri Lanka which dealt with serious allegations, the former Justice Ministry Secretary during the United Front government of Mrs Bandaranaike, asserted that securing international assistance to inquire into war crimes allegations couldn’t be considered a weakness on the part of the Sri Lankan state.

UNSG Ban Ki-moon’s three-member Panel of Experts (PoE) in March, 2011 accused the Sri Lankan military of massacring over 40,000 Tamil civilians during the last phase of the war.

Dr. Jayawickrema suggested that Sri Lanka shouldn’t be reluctant to publicly acknowledge the country lacked the capacity to engage in the investigation.

Japanese Ambassador in Sri Lanka Kenichi Suganuma had been among the distinguished invitees at the event organized by Lanka-Japan Friendship Society.

Dismissing strong opposition to foreign intervention in post-war Sri Lanka, Dr. Jayawickrema emphasized that the government of Sri Lanka couldn’t ignore that its conduct with regard to Sri Lankans had to be in line with relevant international treaties.

Having declared that the government of Sri Lanka had accepted international jurisdiction way back in 1981, Dr. Jayawickrema asserted that a high profile inquiry undertaken by a three-member international panel into war crimes allegations was in accordance with Sri Lanka’s obligations.

Dr. Jayawickrema referred to information gathered by the three-member investigating team in respect of atrocious actions, including extrajudicial execution of identified LTTE cadres and unidentified individuals by the military at the very end of the fighting, enforced disappearances and denial of humanitarian assistance as well as execution of civilians by the military and para-military groups operating alongside government forces.

Dr. Jayawickrema, who taught law in Hong Kong later declared that legal and judicial system lacked the capacity to undertake investigations into war crimes. Referring to President Maithripala Sirisena’s repeated declarations that the local judiciary was capable of addressing the issue of accountability without foreign intervention, the former Justice Ministry Secretary stressed that legal and judicial system had failed ensure justice on many occasions during the past several decades. The internationally acclaimed expert declared that in the absence of required legal framework Sri Lanka couldn’t efficiently establish accountability for war crimes crimes and enforced disappearances. "The process of remedying that deficiency may benefit from expertise, whether international or otherwise."

Dr. Jayawickrema castigated the previous government for failing to address accountability issues with special focus on the disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda on the eve of January 26, 2010 presidential polls. The expert claimed the number of political killings reported during 2005 at 300 and a staggering 700 extra judicial killings during 2006 and 2007.

Referring to several high profile killings taken place during the Rajapaksa administration, Dr. Jayawickrema declared that the circumstances under which the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar had been assassinated in Colombo were still a mystery.

Dr. Jayawickrema also dealt with the Attorney General’s Department, Supreme Court as well as various Presidential Commissions appointed by the previous administration. The former Justice Ministry Secretary strongly condemned the conduct of Presidential Commissions, particularly the Paranagama Commission for failing to fulfill its mandate.

Dr. Jayawickrema underscored the urgent need to take tangible measures to revamp the entire legal and judicial system. The former top official also pointed out that successive governments had failed to fully implement the UN Convention Against Corruption, thereby allowing waste, corruption and irregularities in both public and private sectors.

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