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CHAPTER ONE - THE WORK OF THE COMMISSION

Your Excellency by a Warrant dated 13.11.94, appointed us who are signatories to this report as commissioners to inquire into incidents after 01.01.1988 of involuntary removals or disappearances of persons in Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces. In view of the enormity of the work involved, Your Excellency was pleased to extend the period of the mandate eight times, thus enabling us to continue our work without interruption until the end of our mandate on September 03, 1997.

The work done by us during out tenure may be classified as follows:

  1. Pre-inquiry stage
  2. Inquiries
  3. Follow-up action
  4. Reporting to Your Excellency

A. Pre-Inquiry Stage

1. With the appointment of Mr. Wimaladharma Ekenayake as the Secretary of the Commission, the Secretariat was set-up in January 1995 at the BMICH.

2. Collection of Information: As there was no official and authentic date-base of disappeared person, representations were invited through newspaper advertisements, electronic media, and notices displayed at over 5000 Grama Niladhari [village official] and Divisional Secretary offices. Apart from this a number of government departments and NGOs made available to us names and addresses of petitioners who had communicated with them on earlier occasions. Among these various institutions were the Presidential Secretariat, the Prime Minister's Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defence, Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removals (appointed in 1993), the Mothers' Front, the Lawyers for Human Rights and Development, Hambantota, the Parents' and Children's Front of the Disappeared Persons, Mothers and Daughters of Lanka Front, the Parents' Front of the Disappeared School Children of Embilipitiya, Movements for the Defence Rights (MDDR) and INFORM.

We made contact with the IGP and the Commanders of the security forces to submit to us particulars of members of their respective forces and their family members who have been involuntarily removed or disappeared during the relevant period.

We also made contact with Grama Niladharis of the three provinces through Divisional Secretaries to report to us about disappearances in their respective areas. Divisional Secretaries also provided us with lists of names of those who have either received or applied for compensation in respect of disappearances. There is a close congruence between the numbers reported to Divisional Secretaries for death certificates and the applications received by us.

We also called for representations from all the registered political parties, and information was obtained from those who appeared before the Commission. Through our Diplomatic Mission in Geneva, we requested the UN Human Rights Committee's Working group on Enforced Disappearances (WGEID) to assist us with its data-base on disappearances in Sri Lanka. The WGEID responded to our request enabling us to sort out information relevant to our three provinces.

3. A questionnaire (i.e. a Victim Identification Form) was prepared by us on the lines of the U. N. Human Rights Committee's questionnaire but adapted to suit the terms of reference issues to us by Your excellency. We sent questionnaires to every person who either responded directly with this Commission or whose names and addresses were provided to this Commission by other agencies. 16,8000 questionnaires were sent out from this Commission. There was a certain degree of duplication at the initial stage, because in certain cases the same name had been given us by different institutions. In certain other cases, several questionnaires had been sent to us by the same person by different family members. After the setting up of our computer data-base, this repetition was eliminated.

It should be mentioned that we did not insist on a closing date for the receipt of complaints, thus allowing affected families to report to us up to the last date of our mandate. When petitioners came before the Commission, we proved whether there were any other disappearances relating to their cases, and if there were, we initiated communication by writing to the affected parties, and depending on their response, questionnaires were sent to them.

This Commission has received complaints in respect of 8739 disappearances. We have also received 191 complaints from returned detainees and 12 complaints of physical injury.

4. The following units were set up to assist the work of the Commission.

  1. Computer data base
  2. Legal Unit
  3. Independent Investigation Unit

B. Inquiries

1. After the receipt of completed questionnaires, we issued summons on complainants and other witnesses to give evidence before the Commission. We commenced our sittings on March 10, 1995, starting with the Colombo District. We travelled on numerous occasions to outlying areas in order to give the complainants easy access to the Commission. We have held inquiries in respect of 7761 cases of disappearances (88.8% of the total number of complaints received).

2. In the course of our sittings, 9744 witnesses appeared before the Commission. We also summoned 54 special witnesses such as representatives of various political parties, officers of security forces, representatives of NGO's and other organizations to give evidence on various aspects of the phenomenon of disappearances and its context (see Annexure B).

C. Follow up Action

1. On penal Aspects

Based on the evidence revealed at our inquiries, the following measures were taken by us in regard to penal aspects.

  1. Verification of personnel, including officers in charge of police stations, through the IGP
  2. Ascertainment of the existence of some unacknowledged army camps and clandestine places of detention (including a place of detention maintained by subversives)
  3. Inspection of location, lay-out and other physical features of places of detention (e.g. Sevana Rural Training Institute at Embilipitiya which was then known as "Sevana Camp," the premises of the Batheegama Temple, STF Headquarters in Ganemulla, the locations of the Eliyakanda Camp and the JOC headquarters at Matara, the premises of the rural hospital in Middeniya etc.)
  4. On the spot investigations conducted through our Investigation Unit.

(a) location of alleged mass graves
(b) ascertainment of the existence further witnesses and the content of their
knowledge
(c) perusal of police records including tracking down their location.

  1. Procuring written records such as medical, court, and service records; particulars of registration of ownership (including government-owned vehicles) from the Registrar of Motor Vehicles; Grama Sevaka records; prison records of detention and prison records of escapes from detention; Defence Ministry records of release from detention (pertaining to the Jayalath Committee); records of the Commissioner of Rehabilitation of instances of abduction/disappearances following on the release of some rehabilitated detainees.

(It should be noted that this Commission's attempts to procure army records of arrests, detention, transfers of detainees, maintenance of temporary army camps, operational activities of personnel etc. met with little success. (See Annexures G1 to G5)

  1. In response to petitioners' queries whether the disappeared persons were still being held in prisons, we obtained relevant records from the Commissioner of prisons. Our investigations however did not yield any positive results.

We will be making our recommendations on the issue of penal responsibility in a separate chapter in this report (see, Chapter Seven: "The Legal Proceedings Regarding Responsibility,")

2. On Relief Aspects:

Apart from the devastation and trauma the members of the affected families had been subjected to, we have also identified a wide range of problems these families have had to face on account of members of their families being involuntarily removed or disappeared. These may be listed as follows:

Property related problems
Employment related problems
Inheritance and succession relate problems
Insurance, Bank Loans, housing loans
Funds lying to the credit of the disappeared persons
Destruction of movable property and misappropriation of movable property by the alleged perpetrators
Inability to obtain legal services to institute appropriate legal action notwithstanding the availability of evidence
In cases where on the evidence before us we were satisfied that the alleged involuntary removal or disappearance was proved, we took steps by prevailing upon the appropriate authorities to respond
to the said problems wherever possible. Steps taken by us in respect of some of the areas identified above, the responses received from appropriate authorities and the nature and extent of relief sought to be afforded to the affected families will be referred to in some degree of detail in a subsequent chapter in this report (see, Chapter Nine: "Relief Measures").

D. Reporting to Your Excellency

During this period, we have submitted to your Excellency four Interim Reports, including a Special Interim Report on tire Disappearance of Embilipitiya School Children. As Your Excellency is aware, we made several observations and recommendations in those early reports, and we have integrated some of them into this Final Reports.

Posted on 1999-01-01



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