Death of justice by commission

Tuesday, 19 September 2023 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

President Ranil Wickremesinghe is a past master at creating commissions, committees and task forces for numerous causes, with little to show in any of them. The latest such waste of public funding is the three-member committee appointed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to thoroughly investigate the allegations aired by British broadcaster Channel 4 in its recent documentary. 

The committee is chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice S.I. Imam with retired Air Force Commander A.C.M. Jayalath Weerakkody and Harsha A.J. Soza PC.

There was in fact a presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday attacks that was chaired by Supreme Court judge Janak de Silva. This commission, appointed by then President Maithripala Sirisena, handed over its final report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in February 2021. The findings of this report are not in the public domain.

A Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) which too looked into the Easter Sunday presented its final report to Parliament in October 2019 October, with several testimonials redacted. “Parliament cannot recommend the perpetrators of this attack. That power is in the court. The task of the Select Committee was to find out the shortcomings, negligence and weaknesses,” the Chairman of the PSC added at that time.

Special commissions and committees are unnecessary in a country where the criminal justice system functions. These special mechanisms are not a replacement for the justice system but are supposedly there to augment it. In Sri Lanka however, the special means for justice through commissions, committees and task forces have equally failed just as the criminal justice system to deliver any semblance of justice.

For example, Sri Lanka has one of the worst records for enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the world. Since 1971, at least 13 Commissions of Inquiry (CoIs), with specific mandates to inquire into disappearances, had been created by numerous governments. Despite these commissions recording well over 60,000 enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, both in the South and the North-East, hardly a dozen individuals have been found accountable for these atrocities. In those cases where there had been prosecutions, such as the Krishanti Kumaraswamy rape and murder case, and the Embilipiyiya killing of school students, the crimes were not discovered by any commission or committee. These commissions do not have judicial powers and are not meant to act as judicial processes. They are mere recommendations for further action, which should be taken by the Attorney General. The sheer lack of such action and accountability demonstrates the impotence of such special mechanisms.

There are many loose ends that need to be resolved and explained resulting from the PSC report into the Easter Sunday attacks. Why did the military inelegance intentionally derail police investigations into the terrorists’ group responsible for Easter Sunday, before and after the attacks? Why did the Army’s intelligence unit take away individuals arrested by the police in connection with the attacks, why did MI personnel visit the house of the Taj Samudra bomber moments before he blew himself up elsewhere? Who is the individual attached to MI known as Sonic? And why did he instruct the terrorists to request ISIS to take responsibility for the attacks?

Such questions that have been raised by previous commissions, committees and most recently by the Channel 4 documentary can only be answered by a thorough, impartial, independent, and competent investigation by law enforcement. Rather than allowing for such a process to take place, appointing yet another layer of obfuscation through yet another committee is simply baffling.