COLOMBO: The report of the Maxwell Paranagama commission on forced disappearances and war crimes, which was tabled in the Sri Lankan parliament on Tuesday, has said that Lankan domestic law has to be changed to try cases of war crimes, and the new law should be applicable retrospectively.
Retired Justice Paranagama told Express on Wednesday, that there is as yet no domestic law to try war crimes of the kind which allegedly took place in the last phase of Eelam War IV. And as it stands, Lankan criminal law cannot be applied retrospectively unless specifically provided for.
“But there is provision in the constitution to bring about suitable legislation,” Paranagama pointed out. “And in our report, we have mooted the idea of setting up of a Special High Court to try war crimes,” he said.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has told the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that Lanka will make suitable changes in its domestic laws to render justice.
Non Committal on Hybrid Court
Asked if his panel has suggested the setting up a “Hybrid Court” with a mix of Lankan and foreign judges, prosecutors and investigators, Paranagama said that it is a “political matter” which only the country’s political leadership can decide on.
“We did not commit ourselves one way or the other in this matter,” he said.
The Paranagama report has not committed itself on the exact number of civilian deaths in the last phase of the war but has disputed the figure of 40,000 deaths given by the UN Secretary General’s panel headed by M. Darusman.
“ Our study of the reports of foreign agencies and the house to house survey conducted by the Department of Population and Statistics indicates a death toll of 7,000 odd. While we are not sure about this, we believe that it was not 40,000, at any rate,” Paranagama said.
His report said that the “principal reason” for the loss of civilian life during the final phase of the war was the “hostage taking and use of human shields by the LTTE.”
Udalagama Panel Report
The other report to be placed before parliament was that of the Udalagama Commission which went into seven of the 16 cases of killings of civilians referred to it. Among the cases investigated were the execution style killing of 17 local workers of a French relief agency in Mutur, and the killing of six medical students in Trincomalee allegedly by the Security Forces.
“The investigations did not find any individual guilty,” said panel member Manouri Muttutuwegama. “The Attorney General’s lawyers came out with so many different possibilities in every case, that it was not possible to come to definitive conclusions,” she explained.
According to the panel, police investigations “lacked professionalism.” Panel member Javed Yusuf said they were “shoddy.” A Group of Eminent Persons headed by former Chief Justice of India P.N.Bhagwati, which was overseeing the proceedings of the commission, eventually withdrew, complaining of government interference.
Given the lack of time, only seven of the 16 cases could be investigated, the report said.