[Photo: Vanni after the war, May 2009]
By Dayan Jayatilleka —
Half a loaf being better than none, the presidential expansion of the remit of the Disappearances Commission and the appointment an advisory panel of three persons distinguished in international law are to be welcomed. Of course, the final test will be that of credibility.
If the re-engineering results in a robust domestic inquiry which in turn leads either to prosecutions in the most outrageous cases – as indicated by the LLRC – or a TRC type outcome, the case of which the pernicious UN International Inquiry rests, namely the absence or of a credible domestic mechanism and the unwillingness or inability of the Sri Lankan State to initiate one, will be undermined. We shall have a better chance to win back time and space.
If however, the ‘supercharged’ domestic inquiry does not result in the restoration of credibility before the UNHRC March 2015 session then the guillotine will descend in the form of votes in the UNHRC and the UN General Assembly, resolutions in legislatures in the US-UK-EU and ruling by courts.
Had the President’s moves to appoint a distinguished panel of experts and ramp up the disappearances commission been made any time before March this year—indeed anytime between 3 March and 18 March—Sri Lanka’s Asian friends led by India and Pakistan who solidly opposed the UN International Inquiry, may have succeed in drawing the game for us in the UN Human Rights Council. We could, in sum, have deflected or delayed the pernicious international inquiry. Sadly, that wisdom didn’t dawn in time. No matter. Belated action to boost a domestic inquiry process and bring it line with the recommendations of the LLRC as well as international standards is a smart move. It also shows that President Rajapaksa is capable of smart moves in the right direction and must not be written off.
The whole thing may blowback, though. In an administration and a policy environment in which one proposes and another disposes, the report of the upgraded Disappearances Commission may itself disappear, as did the APRC and Udalagama reports. It is hard to imagine that the three international advisors would not raise one helluva stink in that eventuality. The stink would go global in double quick time. Well, let us see.
Though it must be applauded, the Presidential step forward on the domestic inquiry front cannot be understood as a definitive turn in the right direction because it comes at roughly the same time as the disappointing response to the Cyril Ramaphosa visit, the reappointment of General Chandrasiri and the tightening up on the NGOs. Thus there is no cluster of positive initiatives; no overall liberalisation as we saw in the case of Myanmar/Burma. Perhaps it was possible for the President to get away with the appointment of Sir Desmond et al as an advisory panel because he had already compensated the hawks within his ruling elite by tightening up on the other fronts.
Excerpts of a longer article The international advisory panel, Indo-Lanka ties and UN inquiry, published in Daily FT