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Sri Lanka: New Panel of Retired Judges to Probe Human Rights Violations

(May 31, 2011) The Government of Sri Lanka plans to appoint a panel of five judges to begin a new investigation of human rights violations in the northeastern part of the country. The body will report its findings to Sri Lanka's Human Rights Commission (HRC). The focus of the investigation will be on complaints lodged by internally displaced persons, from whom the HRC has reportedly already received “a large number of complaints of torture and human rights violations,” although the public at large throughout the country may also file new complaints. (Sandun A. Jayasekera, Govt. to Start Fresh Probe on HR Violations, DAILY MIRROR (May 26, 2011).)

According to Supreme Court Justice Priyantha Perera, the newly appointed HRC Chairman, three members of the panel will be Sinhalese judges and the other two will be judges from the Tamil and Muslim communities, all selected from among retired Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judges. Perera stated, “I expect to commence the process from June and the response has been encouraging for the calling of applications. The judges will act independently under the mandate of the HRC. They will be paid on case by case basis they conclude, not a monthly remuneration [sic].” (Id.)

Perera added that he would summon respondents who failed to comply with HRC recommendations (e.g., police officers), ordering them to show cause, and that he had obtained the Chief of Police's agreement to initiate “a constant dialogue with the HRC.” It is the duty of complainants to inform the HRC and the Inspector General of non-compliance with the recommendations. (Id.) Perera also indicated that the HRC would appoint human rights officers in every region of the country to handle acts of violation of human rights and also engage with Sri Lankan civil rights groups and non-government organizations to foster respect for human rights. (Id.)

Perera plans to propose amendments to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act of 1996 that would give the HRC the power to deal directly with respondents who have persisted in ignoring its recommendations. The Act currently provides for the HRC to refer such acts of non-compliance to the President, who in turn refers them to Parliament, which, according to the Justice, is an ineffective procedure. (Id.; Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act No. 21 of 1996 (certified on Aug. 21, 1996), Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka website.)