Fresh IIGEP controversy erupts

A fresh controversy is brewing following a letter written by former Chief Justice for India P.N. Bhagwati retracting his earlier position on the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) observations.

The controversy now is over the observations made by Sir Nigel Rodley, who has told newsmen that he was sceptical about the government’s statement quoting a letter sent by Justice Bhagwati.

Sir Rodley has told BBC Sandeshaya that the IIGEP stood by its original statement that was issued after discussions held in February.

The government now feels that Sir Rodley is having a different agenda and he is making use of Bhagwati to put his views across at a time when UN human rights agencies are meeting to discuss various issues, which include Sri Lanka.


The letter written by Justice Bhagwati, addressed to President Rajapaksa dated April 26, 2008, retracting his earlier position, is as follows:

“I am grateful to Your Excellency for giving three members of the IIGEP, Sir Nigel Rodley. Prof. Yokota and myself, an opportunity of meeting with you. During this meeting we had an opportunity of discussing and clarifying some of the issues arising out of the public statement of IIGEP.

“One of the main issues raised in the discussion at the meeting was in regard to the expression ‘absence of political will’ on the part of Government of Sri Lanka mentioned in the public statement.

“I would like to point out to your Excellency that if you would kindly look at the public statement at the relevant part, you will find that IIGEP has not accused the Government of Sri Lanka of any lack of political will insofar as the functioning of COI is concerned. What has been recited in the public statement is about ‘IIGEP’s apprehension regarding absence of political will.’

“IIGEP has never alleged that there was absence of political will on the part of the Government of Sri Lanka. It was merely an apprehension which was voiced by IIGEP in view of the facts before them.

“IIGEP of course could not voice anything more than mere apprehension because it was not within their jurisdiction to find whether there was absence of political will on the part of Government of Sri Lanka or not. That was not within their terms of reference which were confined merely to observing whether the proceedings before the Commission of Inquiry were transparent and in accordance with the international principles and norms.

“I may add that so far as the Commission of Inquiry is concerned, it has been doing very good work and the members of IIGEP have had the best of cooperation from the Chairman and members of COI. I have no doubt that the COI will continue to carry on its work with the same zeal and dedication as it has been doing so far. All my best wishes to COI and to the Government of Sri Lanka.”

Meanwhile, the government feels that the IIGEP worked on a different agenda to embarrass the government and the letter written by Bhagwati retracting his earlier position had put the entire panel in a very awkward position.

Government position

The government, which met with Justice Bhagwati together with Professor Yokota Yozo and Professor Sri Nigel Rodley, told them in no uncertain terms that the IIGEP had overstepped its mandate.

The IIGEP was met by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Attorney General C.R. de Silva and other officials.

The Commission of Inquiry looking into human rights abuses is continuing and is looking into the assassinations of the 17 ACF workers, who were killed in Muttur in November 200.

The latest is that the IIGEP has issued another statement, which states that it stands by its concluding remarks and disassociates itself from any attempt by the government to reinterpret the unanimously agreed text.

However, what should be considered most is the letter sent by Chairman Bhagwati retracting the earlier position taken up by the IIGEP, that the government lacks the political will to ensure the success of the Commission of Inquiry.
Contrary to his earlier remarks, Bhagwati has said that the IIGEP would only express its apprehensions and nothing more.