The government is scheduled to announce an eight-member commission to probe fifteen cases of abductions, disappearances and extra-judicial killings that occurred after August 2005, according to The Sunday Island. The incidents are said to include the Lakshman Kadirgamar killing; the hanging of a family of five in Mannar; the Pesalai incident where civilians were shot inside a church; the killing of civilians on Kayts Island; the assassination of five students in Trincomalee; the claymore attack on a civilian bus in Kebetigollewa; the killing of Action Against Hunger workers in Muttur; the five headless bodies found in Avissawella; the disappearances of Muslims in Muttur and the suicide attack on a navy transit point near Habarana. The appointment of the committee to be headed by a Supreme Court judge is expected to precede the formation the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), the report says.
That is a path-breaking move, which could be considered an effective antidote against the culture of impunity, which the protracted conflict has brought about. It may not be possible to probe each and every crime against civilians in a conflict situation but the willingness on the part of the state to demonstrate that the rule of law is far from dead and no one enjoys legal immunity is sure to go long way by way of a deterrent.
There might be some resistance to the probe mechanism with international participation on the grounds that it amounts to tampering with Sri Lanka`s sovereignty. But the question is whether the concept of sovereignty could be used as a shield vis-`E0-vis blatant violations of human rights that have come to plague the country. On the other hand, why shouldn`t a state that seeks foreign assistance to feed its populace and battle terrorism, among other things, call for the same to protect human rights?
The government decision has rightly been hailed by the international community as a step in the right direction and it is being recommended to other countries. But, it is too early to say whether it is going to yield the intended results. In most of the aforesaid cases, the perpetrators have covered their tracks. In this country, for want of a better alternative, the people have had to go by the trademarks associated with perpetrators in determining who has committed what.
The biggest obstacle that the Committee will find on its way is likely to be the non-cooperation of the non state actors like the LTTE in investigations. In the fifteen incidents listed above, there is no alleged involvement of any group other than the armed forces and the LTTE. As investigations proceed with more and more cases that other groups like the Eastern Tigers are responsible for being placed before it, the Committee is sure to run into far greater difficulties.
If the LTTE doesn`t evince an interest in the investigations and chooses to boycott them by claiming that its participation will amount to its acceptance of the writ of the state, the Committee will be flying with one wing just like the Special Presidential probes in the past, which became lop-sided and flopped in the end, having provided some sort of public entertainment. Besides, agreeing to co-operate with the Committee will be a difficult proposition for the LTTE because the abductions to be probed will include those of child combatants.
Investigations will require that investigators be given access to places of their choice. When the cases of child abductions and extra judicial killings in the so-called LTTE controlled areas are placed before the Committee, the LTTE will be compelled to open up that terrain, which is, no doubt, the last thing that it will want to do.
If the Committee is to stick to the chronological order of the cases in launching investigations, then the Kadirgamar assassination will have to be taken up first of all. That`s, the LTTE will be the first to be put in the dock. How the LTTE will take it remains to be seen.
The state is not so difficult to handle as the international community wields the potent aid weapon. The government can be asked to stand and deliver with no questions asked. So, it might even go to the extent of sacrificing those members of the security forces against whom allegations have been levelled, on the altar of international opinion for a few million dollars more. But, it is doubtful whether the LTTE will do so as all massacres and other crimes its members stand condemned for have had the blessings of the `Supreme Command.` The LTTE is, it should be recalled, no respecter of the international community.
While the appointment of the special committee in question is salutary and it deserves all assistance and encouragement from those desirous of helping the war weary populace, it is fervently hoped that it won`t go the same way as the failed SLMM!