Sri Lanka's Attorney General has accused Justice PN Bhagwati, Chairman of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) overseeing investigations into human rights violations in the island, of "insulting" the members of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
"Your comments about questioning witnesses and the general conduct of investigations, amount to an expression of direct insult to the honourable Commissioners whom the government proudly believes are some of the most treasured sons and daughters of Sri Lanka," Attorney General CR de Silva said in a very pungent "public" letter to Bhagwati, a former Indian Supreme Court Chief Justice and an internationally acclaimed jurist.
The Attorney General was incensed by two public statements made by Justice Bhagwati in which he had alleged that the CoI had done very little work since it was set up; that the procedures followed by it were unsatisfactory; and that there were undue delays.
To indicate that what he was saying was the view of the Sri Lankan government, the Attorney General said that the letter was written "at the behest of the Sri Lankan government," which had appointed the CoI and the IIGEP.
In the missive dated June 18, the Attorney General charged that Bhagwati had issued the two statements last week only to embarrass Sri Lanka when the UN Human Rights Council was meeting in Geneva.
The Attorney General said that it was "unreasonable" on the part of Bhagwati to say that there was delay in starting work and that hardly any progress had been made in the investigations. Four months were necessary to put the necessary infrastructure in place, he argued.
On the issue of Victims and Witnesses Protection, he pointed out that Sri Lanka was not alone in not having an appropriate legislation. But steps had been taken to provide the required protection during the work of the CoI.
Bhagwati was wrong in finding fault with the Attorney General's Office for providing Counsels to aid the Commission because he had agreed to their appointment initially. At any rate, the Counsels were functioning under the Commissioners who were eminent men in the judicial field.
Bhagwati could not find fault with the line of questioning adopted by the Counsels because he had never attended a session, the Attorney General pointed out. Out of the 11 members of the IIGEP, only three were present on the inaugural day, and till the day on which Bhagwati issued his first critical statement, none of the members had been attending the sessions!
During the initial weeks, two assistants of some IIGEP members were attending the sessions. It was probably on the basis of the reports of these assistants, that Justice Bhagwati had made his remarks, the Attorney General said.
"It would have been far more prudent had you personally observed the proceedings of the Commission and thereafter formed your views," Bhagwati was told.
The Attorney General pointed that the President of Sri Lanka had appointed the IIGEP only to observe the investigations of the CoI, and not to observe investigations being carried out by routine Competent Authorities. He drew attention to a recent incident in which an IIEGP member and his assistant had observed proceedings in a Magistrate's Court and then barged into the Judge's Chamber, uninvited. This conduct was "in excess of the mandate" he said.
The IIEGP had exceeded its mandate also when it suggested that Sri Lanka accept international monitoring of human rights violations.
Refusing to withdraw his Counsels from the Commission's proceedings, the Attorney General said: "I regret to inform you that, I am unable to withdraw my officers from the Commission, due to misinformed, incorrect and partial conclusions reached by the IIGEP."