'Members views on this ("war crimes tribunal") will have bearing on the content of the report' - Marzuki Darusman
The United Nations has announced a three member panel to look into alleged human rights abuses during Sri Lanka's civil war by both the military and the Tamil Tiger rebels. After a three decade civil war, the Tamil Tigers were defeated by government forces in May last year. The UN panel aims to investigate allegations that thousands of civilians were killed in the final months of the conflict and rebels troops trying to surrender were executed. But the move has angered Colombo which says the panel members will not be allowed into the country:
Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speakers: Marzuki Darusman, Indonesia's former Attorney General and chairman UN panel investigating war crimes accusations in Sri Lanka
Listen: Windows Media
DARUSMAN: This is an advisory panel to the United Nations Secretary General to advise him on proposals to address the situation in Sri Lanka in terms of alleged human rights violations and the latter part of the conflict.
COCHRANE: A UN spokesman said that the panel would have a mostly consultative role, with the primary responsibility resting with the Sri Lankan Government. So is the panel assisting the Sri Lankan Government's investigation or is it independent of that?
DARUSMAN; It's attached to the secretary-general's office and any relations or connections with the Sri Lankan Government will have to be done through the secretary-general's office.
COCHRANE: So you're saying it's independent of the Sri Lankan government's investigation?
DARUSMAN: It is and perhaps I might add that we are also there not representing any government. We are there in our personal individual capacity.
COCHRANE: Previously, the Sri Lankan authorities have indicated that they are not interested in cooperating with the panel's investigation. How do you think this will affect your work?
DARUSMAN: There again I might not be able to comment as much as I would want to, but we will have to know exactly what the status is after we meet with the secretary-general and therefore it might not be for us to comment on that at the moment.
COCHRANE: Now you've had experience yourself in conducting human rights investigations in Sri Lanka and have previously encountered political interference, which ended those investigations. How challenging do you think this investigation will be?
DARUSMAN: The thrust of the work of the panel I suppose would be to collect and address issues that were brought to its attention. Whether or not this is sourced within the country or outside the country, but it will be unfortunate of course if the panel is not in a position to verify or cross check with the government of Sri Lanka as to the status of matters brought to its attention. We recognise given facts, which is the fact that the panel has been established and that there are strong views or clear views on the part of the Sri Lankan Government on the setting up of the panel.
COCHRANE: Will the panel be investigating the actions of the Tamil Tigers also or just of the government forces?
DARUSMAN: As we understand from the secretary-general's visit to Sri Lanka and the statement that came out from the spokesperson attributable to the secretary-general, it will cover a broad range of issues, covering the period between the time when the alleged human rights violations took place and the closure of the conflict. This would then cover acts that were committed in the course of that conflict.
COCHRANE: I know it's at an early stage at this point, but are you confident that you'll get visas to go to Sri Lanka and conduct an on the ground assessment?
DARUSMAN: That remains to be seen. We certainly hope that the panel is allowed the widest scope in the discharge of its function. But then again, I must emphasise that we will not in any way take up the issue of whether or not we might be able to go to Sri Lanka, that is for the secretary-general to decide.
COCHRANE: When will the panel's investigation start and how long is it expected to take?
DARUSMAN: As I understand it at the moment, the panel is expected to submit its report within four months and therefore we would have to start almost immediately. We're still waiting for further advice from the UN Secretary-General or the secretary-general's office and then draw up a work plan which would cover the whole period of the mandate of the panel. So we will have to address this first before making any statements on the workings of the panel.
COCHRANE: And if the panel does find evidence of serious violations, will you be recommending to the secretary-general that a war crimes tribunal be set up?
DARUSMAN: That remains to be seen. I don't want to jump ahead on these issues, but certainly the panel will be influenced by the individual background of its members, therefore the members views on this will have bearing on the content of the report and this would in a way indicate that perhaps the content of the report would also cover best practices in addressing issues of such nature throughout the world.