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Govt explains stand in SL–Bhagwati row

Foreign Secretary Dr Palitha Kohona says that it was unfair on the part of Justice Bhagwati to have charged that there were undue delays in the working of the CoI.

world Updated: Jul 01, 2007 15:44 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran
Hindustan Times
Hindustantimes
         

Intervening in the ding-dong battle between the Sri Lankan Attorney General and the Chairman of the International Independent Group of
Eminent Persons (IIGEP), the Indian jurist PN Bhagwati, over the functioning of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into human rights
violations in the country, the Sri Lankan government last week explained to Bhagwati its position on the contentious issues.

Foreign Secretary Dr Palitha Kohona told Hindustan Times on Sunday, that it was unfair on the part of Justice Bhagwati to have charged
that there were undue delays in the working of the CoI.

"The Yugoslavian Tribunal took 18 months of preparatory work to get started.The Cambodian Tribunal has taken two years and is yet to get
started. All this despite full backing from the UN system. The Sri Lankan CoI on the other hand, got started in just four months," Kohona
pointed out.

As regards Justice Bhagwati's objection to the participation of Counsels appointed by the Attorney General (AG) in the work of the
CoI, Kohona said that under the Sri Lankan legal system, the AG could assist an inquiry through its own Counsels.

"The AG is appointed by the Executive, and he has the legal right to participate. This is based on the British system," Kohona said.

The Foreign Secretary defended the AG's contention that Justice Bhagwati could not go by the reports presented by the IIGEP's
Assistants attending the sessions. He should go by the reports of the members of the IIGEP present during the proceedings of the CoI.

"Some of the Assistants are highly qualified. But some are young researchers," Kohona pointed out.

In an interview to The Nation Justice Bhagwati said that the language used by the AG in his missive was "not proper" and "did not befit the
office of Attorney General."

"If I am wrong, the Attorney General could very well point it out, and I am willing to accept it. But it should be done in courteous
language," octogenarian former Indian Supreme Court Chief Justice said.

On the involvement of the AG's Counsels in the CoI's work, Bhagwati reiterated his stand. " I still maintain that there should be
Independent Counsel to conduct proceedings before the CoI instead of officers from the AG's department. Independent lawyers should be free
to decide what material should be placed before the CoI, and what is relevant and irrelevant and whether further investigations should be
done to arrive at the truth."

"For this you need Independent Counsel who could of course seek the help of the AG's department.Independent Counsel may be instructed by
the AG's officers," he said.

"This is not a prosecution based on completed investigations, but a Commission of Inquiry to ascertain the truth," he pointed out.

"This is how in India and other parts of the world, a Commission of Inquiry is held. I still maintain the objection to officers of the
AG's department playing the role of Independent Counsel in an inquiry of this nature," he said.

The eminent Indian judge said that he had raised this issue with President Mahinda Rajapaksa six months ago, and had even written to
him about it. But the President " did not seem to attach any importance to the point I was making," he recalled.

Reiterated his position that there had to be a witness protection law Bhagwati said that it was necessary to conduct the inquiry "properly."

Meanwhile, to douse the fires of controversy, President Rajapaksa had written to Justice Bhagwati asking him to continue as Chairman of the
IIEGP, The Sunday Times reports.

First Published: Jul 01, 2007 15:35 IST