The Stuff of Nightmares: How the Specter of “Enhanced Interrogations” Affects the 9/11 Military Commissions in Guantánamo

The following guest-post was written by Kate Gibson, who has been representing accused before the international criminal courts and tribunals since 2005, including as co-counsel for Radovan Karadžic and Charles Taylor, and as lead counsel for Justin Mugenzi before the ICTR. She is currently the co-counsel of Bosco Ntaganda before the ICC, where she also represented Jean-Pierre Bemba between 2009 and 2018. She was an observer to the 9/11 proceedings before the Military Commission in February 2020 as part of the ADC-ICT’s Guantánamo Bay Observer Program.

A detainee at the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay is escorted to an interrogation by military guards (Photo: Associated Press)

Almost 20 years after the event, five men are facing charges for their alleged role in the hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. The U.S. Government has charged the group of five accused – including the alleged 9/11 “mastermind” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed – with terrorism and murder as a war crime, among other counts. This is a capital case, with the Government seeking the death penalty, and one that exposes the all-too thin line between the legitimate pursuit of accountability and the (ab)use of defendants’ rights to reach the desired result.

The charges would have been readily prosecutable in U.S. Federal Court. In fact, some of the accused were first indictedin the Southern District of New York. Ultimately, the proceedings were carved out of the domestic legal system and are now being conducted offshore before a U.S. Military Commission in Guantánamo, Cuba.

From its peak of 780 detainees in 2005, 40 people remain incarcerated at Guantánamo, a Naval Base just over 100 square kilometres in size, located in a steamy outpost at the southeastern tip of Cuba. At a current annual cost of USD 13 million per inmate, some of the 40 who remain are “forever detainees”, who will never be charged, but will be released at the conclusion of the “War on Terror”.

The Military Commissions are essentially hybrid courts; a cross between the U.S. federal court system and a military court-martial. They have been controversial since inception. Attacked for their perceived incompatibility with international fair trial standards and on the basis that they are not ‘regularly constituted courts’ as required by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the narrative of the Commissions being a “failed experiment” has taken hold, and is proving difficult to shake.

The fair trial concerns are neither minor nor peripheral. Under the Military Commissions Act (2009), the presumption of innocence has been significantly weakened (if not obliterated) by personal jurisdiction being triggered by a determination that the accused are “unprivileged enemy belligerents”; namely those who have engaged in or materially supported hostilities against the U.S., or were part of al-Qaeda at the time of the alleged offence. The U.S. position is that any attack on U.S. forces is a war crime, and that any support of hostilities or membership in al-Qaeda can be construed as supporting terrorism. As such, the presumption of innocence is effectively a legal fiction.

Exculpatory evidence is frequently withheld on the basis that it is “classified”, despite the lead Defence lawyer on each team (the “learned counsel”) having a security clearance of at least “top secret”. Wildly permissible evidential rules permit the admission of illegally-obtained evidence seized outside the U.S., as well as statements by the accused on the grounds of alleged coercion or compulsory self-incrimination.

Add to this last week’s revelation that Presiding Judge Colonel W. Shane Cohen granted a request from the Government to use a “device” in the courtroom, to be hidden from the Defence, allowing the CIA and other “Original Classification Authorities” (“OCAs”) to follow the proceedings in real-time and communicate directly with the Government lawyers. The OCAs can then prompt the Government lawyers to ask the Court Security Office (CSO), who sits beside the Presiding Judge, to stop evidence for reasons of national security, or to prevent potential “spills” of classified information. Defence teams first noticed the device – a small silver tablet – during the cross-examination of CIA psychologist Dr. James E. Mitchell, who co-developed the Agency’s “enhanced interrogation program”. Suspicions were raised that the device could communicate with third parties outside the courtroom, after Government lawyers were unable to explain why they had asked for an interruption to the evidence.

While conceding he was wrong to authorise real-time contact between the Government and OCAs ex parte, Judge Cohen insisted the device does nothing more than leverage technology to prevent “spills” of classified information, and reacted angrily to Defence submissions that apparent intelligence agency disruption undermines a fair trial. Given that the CSO does not consult with these OCAs before preventing evidence from entering the record, the potential for abuse is clear. Allowing third parties to unilaterally censor witnesses from outside the courtroom, introduces another layer of state control to the proceedings that is difficult to reconcile with their purported independence.

In the same heated exchange, Judge Cohen insisted the device was not being used to spy on Defence teams, and said he would “dismiss the charge without thinking twice about it” if the Government was found to be monitoring Defence communications. This is a significant statement in a case where, in 2013, defence teams discovered that the smoke detectors in attorney-client meeting rooms were in fact listening devices; in 2014 the FBI attempted to recruit a defence team member as a confidential informant; and in 2015, one of the accused identified a courtroom translator as a former interpreter from a CIA black site, following which the Government chief prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins accused Defence lawyers of failing to do their “due diligence” in not having identified him earlier. Continue reading

Posted in Defense Counsel, Guantanamo Bay, Guest Posts, Human Rights, International Criminal Justice, Terrorism, United States | Tagged | 1 Comment

Challenges and Opportunities: Audio-Visual Evidence in International Criminal Proceedings

The following guest post was written by Jelia Sane and Chiara Gabriele. Jelia Sane is a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, London, specialised in the areas of international criminal law, international humanitarian law and human rights. Chiara Gabriele is a Legal Advisor for the Great Lakes program at TRIAL International. She joined the NGO in 2015 and has been based in Bukavu (DRC) since 2017. 

(Imagine: Open University)

International criminal courts and tribunals (ICTs) have long admitted audiovisual material in evidence, including photographs, videos and audio recordings. Photographs and moving images have been relied on since the first war crimes trials at Nuremberg. In the 1990s, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) considered satellite imagery and film footage captured by journalists, amongst others.

More recently, the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL), and Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has coincided with the popularisation of the internet, in particular of social media, along with the proliferation of mobile phone and communications technology. Individuals are increasingly uploading potentially relevant and probative evidence of international crimes online, especially on social media platforms. Indeed, to date, over 4 million videos of the Syrian conflict have been uploaded on YouTube alone. There are more hours of footage of the Syrian conflict than have passed since the war began in 2011. ICC investigators and prosecutors are increasingly collecting user-generated digital and open-source evidence for use at trial. The Office of the Prosecutor collected digital evidence for the first time in 2008 in the  Bemba case and video evidence was introduced in Prosecutor v Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the first trial before the Court. By 2011, this kind of evidence had been collected in the Kenya, Ivory Coast and Libya investigations. The Court now has an ‘e-Court Protocol’, designed to ensure  the “authenticity, accuracy, confidentiality and preservation” of the record of court proceedings.

Audio-visual evidence can be a valuable source of evidence in international criminal trials. Footage from mobile phones, photographs, and videos can link a suspect to the scene of a crime; pinpoint the time and place of an incident; capture dimensions of an event that may lie beyond the recollection of a witness; and provide a credible, real-time, and objective record of a situation. The risk that information will be lost, manipulated, or destroyed is reduced, particularly in cases where evidence is preserved in a digital format. At the same time, the widespread availability of audio-visual technologies and the proliferation of “citizen” journalists and “user generated” material can raise thorny evidentiary challenges for courts, in terms of establishing provenance, authenticity, and chain of custody, amongst others. These challenges have yet to be specifically addressed in the procedural rules of the ICTs, whose approach to date has largely been to assess evidence of this nature on a case by case basis and by reference to the standard rules and principles applicable to other forms of evidence.

Audio-visual material is generally admitted as a form of documentary evidence. The term “document” has been broadly interpreted in this context to mean  “anything in which information of any description is recorded”, this encompasses  paper documents as well as  photographs and the content of audio and video recordings If the material is stored on, received, or transmitted by, an electronic device such as a smartphone, it will also be considered as digital evidence. In both cases, the “document” itself may also be preserved as physical evidence. As with other types of evidence, there are no universal standards governing the admissibility of audio-visual material. However, the admissibility threshold in ICTs is generally low relative to that of national systems, particularly common law jurisdictions.

Trial judges at the ICC for example have wide discretion to admit any evidence provided that it is (i) prima facierelevant; (ii) prima facie probative; and (iii) sufficiently relevant and probative as to outweigh any prejudicial effect its admission may cause. Relevance turns on whether the evidence makes “the existence of a fact in issue more or less probable”. Probative value is considered in terms of the reliability and authenticity of the evidence, as well as the extent to which it is likely to influence the determination of a fact at issue. This is a fact-specific inquiry that takes into account numerous factors, including the origin, form, content and date of the documentary evidence; where and in what circumstances it was seized; the chain of custody after seizure; the corroboration of the contents of the document with other evidence; and the nature of the document itself (e.g. whether it contains any signatures or stamps). Trial judges must also consider the potentially prejudicial effect of admission. Open source or user-generated evidence may raise specific challenges in this regard. For example, if a video is exceedingly graphic, or attacks the character of the accused without shedding much light on the facts in issue, it may be excluded as prejudicial. As for evidentiary weight, this will turn on the intrinsic quality of the evidence and on the totality of the evidence admitted at trial. Continue reading

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Inching Towards Investigation? Seeking ICC Justice and Complementarity in Ukraine

The following is a guest post by Ania Kwadrans, a lawyer, Senior Policy Advisor at the Refugee Hub, and a Master’s Student at Oxford’s International Human Rights Law Program. The post and the author’s attendance to the 18th Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court are supported by the Canadian Partnership for International Justice and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Firefighters seen here tackling a blaze following an attack on several houses Kuibishevskiy, near the airport in Donetsk, Ukraine on Nov. 20 2014. (Photo: Menahem Kahana / PRI)

It has been almost six years since the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination into the situation in Ukraine. Many readers might thus be wondering: what is happening? What does the Court plan to do? Will an investigation be opened? What actions are being taken in Ukraine itself to address alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity? In this post, I offer an update on the Ukraine situation and summarize key findings of the ICC Prosecutor and views of observers of the situation and investigation in Ukraine.

Background

On 5 December 2019, coinciding with the 18th Assembly of States Parties (ASP), the ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda issued her office’s 2019 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities. This included an update on the Office of the Prosecutor’s (OTP) activities in Ukraine, which has been under preliminary examination since 25 April 2014.

Although Ukraine is not a State Party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Rome Statute), Article 12(3) of the Statute enables non-States Parties to accept the Court’s jurisdiction with respect to specific crimes. The Government of Ukraine took this step on 17 April 2014 and 8 September 2015, accepting jurisdiction of the ICC over alleged crimes committed on its territory since 21 November 2013 (OTP Report on Preliminary Examinations, paras. 256-258).

The first of three situations being examined by the ICC concern violence that occurred starting on 21 November 2013 when mass protests erupted in Maiden Independence Square in reaction to then President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to not sign an agreement that would bring Ukraine into closer cooperation with the European Union. At least 50 anti-government protesters were killed, some shot by snipers. Hundreds were injured.

Following EU-led mediation, a new government was constituted on 21 February 2014, and on 22 February 2014 President Yanukovych was removed from office by vote of Parliament (OTP Report on Preliminary Examinations, paras. 260-261). The new government was met with growing protests, particularly in eastern Ukraine and in Crimea. On 26-27 February 2014, Russian military personnel together with members of local militia progressively occupied the Crimean peninsula. On 18 March 2014, the Russian Federation announced a formal annexation of this territory and has continued to control it ever since. Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine, protests devolved into violent conflict between Ukrainian armed forces engaging in an “anti-terror operation” and armed anti-government protesters which continued for more than five years. According to the Global Conflict Tracker, violence in eastern Ukraine has resulted in the deaths of more than 10,300 individuals and the displacement of 1.5 million. The situations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine are also under investigation by the OTP. Continue reading

Posted in Complementarity, Guest Posts, ICC Prosecutor, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice, Ukraine | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir may finally face justice for Darfur. But the work is not yet done

Omar Al-Bashir during recent proceedings in Sudan where he was convicted on charges of corruption (Photo: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Reuters)

Former Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir may soon face trial before judges of the International Criminal Court.

Take a moment. Read that again. Let it sink in.

The ICC shook the diplomatic world in 2009 when it issued a warrant for Mr. al-Bashir over the atrocities in Darfur, where a horrendous conflict had already cost the lives of thousands in what is widely acknowledged as a genocide. It marked the first time the court had indicted a sitting head of state.

Many worried the announcement would complicate conflict-resolution efforts there, but for more than a decade, there was no movement to hold Mr. al-Bashir accountable. Sudanese authorities now say they are prepared to let the ICC prosecute the deposed president.

The details of exactly how he may be “surrendered” to the ICC remain unclear. According to journalists in close contact with the Sudanese government, authorities want to hand over Mr. al-Bashir to ICC officials for possible prosecution in Sudan, not the court’s home of The Hague.

While theoretically possible, the court has previously rejected opportunities to sit and prosecute individuals in the countries in which the atrocities were committed. Having the trial in Sudan would make the ICC dependent on Sudanese authorities for security, witness protection and logistics. That could undermine attempts to bring to justice other alleged or implicated perpetrators – including key members of Sudan’s current transitional leadership.

The possibility is nevertheless worth careful consideration. It would ensure greater access for victims to any trial of Mr. al-Bashir, and a partnership between the ICC and Sudanese judiciary could potentially contribute to rebuilding the rule of law in Sudan.

At the same time, Mr. al-Bashir’s prosecution by the ICC is far from a done deal. It was apparently a concession to victims of violence in Darfur during peace talks to end the conflict there. Justice for Mr. al-Bashir appears to be a bargaining chip in negotiations.

Still, some optimism is warranted. Since Mr. al-Bashir’s ousting last year, Sudan’s political scene has transformed. While key members of its transitional leadership are themselves allegedly implicated in atrocities, the new regime is eagerly seeking reconciliation with the international community as well as relief from sanctions.

It is no coincidence that officials declared that Mr. al-Bashir would be surrendered to the ICC within just hours of the United Nations Secretary-General calling for Sudan to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. More concessions like this may be needed to push Sudanese authorities to commit to putting Mr. al-Bashir before ICC judges.

That said, the latest developments also illustrate the extent to which the ICC depends on domestic political dynamics for opportunities to prosecute alleged war criminals. It also shows how limited an impact the court has on the situations in which it intervenes. Continue reading

Posted in Darfur, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice, Omar al-Bashir, Sudan | Leave a comment

What Happens Now with Omar Al-Bashir?

A version of this article was originally posted at The National. Many thanks to the editors and writers there for their work and encouragement.

Omar Al Bashir has already been prosecuted for corruption and related offences in Sudan. AP Photo

Omar Al Bashir during his recent prosecution for corruption and related offences in Sudan. (Photo: AP)

The world watched with interest when it was announced that Sudanese authorities were planning to “hand over” Omar Al Bashir, the ousted president, to the International Criminal Court.

It has been more than 10 years since the ICC issued the first of two warrants for Al Bashir. Despite outstanding obligations on states to co-operate with the Court and surrender Al Bashir to The Hague, he travelled widely, including to member-states of the ICC. Justice for Darfur was neglected. States such as South Africa hosted Al Bashir and threatened to pull out of the ICC when the Court admonished their invitations. European nations worked closely with the regime in Khartoum to stanch immigration from Africa. Powerful actors, including members of the UN Security Council that had referred Darfur to the ICC in the first place, went silent on justice for Al Bashir.

But then Al Bashir fell from grace in the eyes of his countrymen and women. The Sudanese – though notably not the international community – had enough of him. Many citizens have since pushed for the former leader to be punished for his involvement in atrocities. They might just get their wish.

Now, the question is not “will Al Bashir be brought to justice”, but where and how. According to Sudan’s justice minister, the country is considering numerous options: “One possibility is that the ICC will come here so they will be appearing before the ICC in Khartoum, or there will be a hybrid court maybe, or maybe they are going to transfer them to The Hague. That will be discussed with the ICC.”

A trial at the ICC

When Sudan announced that Al Bashir would be tried by the ICC, many initially assumed that the former president would be prosecuted in The Hague. This would be a remarkable U-turn for a state that has historically been among the most ardent antagonists of the Court.

However, it appears that some Sudanese officials are concerned that Al Bashir might testify against them if he goes before ICC judges. But an ICC trial in The Hague remains a possibility: for Sudan, shipping Al Bashir off to another continent would rid them of a potential headache and garner “brownie points” for supporting international justice efforts, in line with Khartoum’s desire to rehabilitate its global image.

If Al Bashir does end up in The Hague, however, the ICC had better be ready. His prosecution would be the most complex in the Court’s history. It would be the first time that a perpetrator stood before ICC judges facing charges of genocide – a charge that is notoriously difficult and time-consuming to try. If Al Bashir is handed over, investigators would have to kick their activities into high gear and would need the co-operation of Khartoum.

An ICC Trial in Sudan

The Court has considered holding some in-country hearings on multiple occasions, including in northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. On each occasion, the ICC declined doing so, primarily for security and financial concerns. The ICC is extremely risk averse and would refuse to put staff in danger.

Moreover, in addition to accommodation and travel, security costs would likely be prohibitory. Allocating so much of the Court’s limited funding to so-called in situ trials might not be of interest to ICC staff or to the states that fund it. The Court needs to spread what little money it has to progress investigations, including those related to the Rohingya crisis, Venezuela and Ukraine. Continue reading

Posted in Darfur, Genocide, Hybrid Courts, Hybrid Tribunals, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice, Omar al-Bashir, Sudan | 1 Comment

‘Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere’ – Palestine, Israel, and the ICC

The following post was written for a symposium entitled ‘Sometimes They Come Back’: The Question of the ICC’s Territorial Jurisdiction in Palestine. The symposium organizers are Triestino Mariniello and Chantal Meloni. Be sure to check it out over at Opinio Juris!

Rockets fired from Gaza city into Israel in March 2019 (Photo: Amir Cohen / Reuters)

You would think it was reason to celebrate: there is a distinct possibility of an international court investigating alleged international crimes in a region of the world where such atrocities are well-documented, yet accountability scant. Then again, we are talking about a subject that gets many people’s knickers in a knot: the possibility of the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigating crimes committed in Palestine. Even respected proponents of international justice have lined up to proffer reasons as to why an ICC investigation should be thwarted. In doing so, they project a vision of international criminal justice that should only be available some places, some of the time. There are major costs to this view – for both Palestine and Israel, for the ICC, and for the project of international criminal justice. The ICC route has its limitation, but efforts to achieve even a modicum of accountability for Palestinians and Israelis deserve support.

Is it really that complicated?

There continues to be a debate among international lawyers and scholars as to whether Palestine is a state. The ICC Prosecutor herself acknowledged that “the question of Palestine’s Statehood under international law does not appear to have been definitively resolved.” Some observers are genuinely interested in this debate. Others pipe up when there is a possibility of accountability in the region and instrumentalize the debate to foment uncertainty about whether Palestinian and Israeli victims deserve international criminal justice.

But it may not actually be all that complicated for the ICC. As the ICC Prosecutor has explained:

there are sufficient indicia of statehood to enable the ordinary operation of the ICC Statute… [M]y office has analyzed as relevant — the assessment conducted by a number of different competent and informed bodies, such as the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council, the Secretary-General and several UN coordinators, rapporteurs and committees.

The real question before judges isn’t whether Palestine is a state for the purposes of an ICC investigation, but where, exactly Palestinian statehood starts and stops. There are good arguments to suggest that a criminal court is not best placed determine the territorial boundaries of states. For those concerned and interested in being productive, however, energy would be better spent in finding an appropriate forum to determine the territory of Palestine, rather than pretending that it somehow isn’t a member-state of the Court.

Today, the majority of the world’s states (137 in total) recognize Palestine statehood, including most ICC states. The only major regional outliers in are states in Europe and North America. The Court itself not only recognizes Palestine as a member state for the purposes of the Rome Statute, but spelled out to Palestinian authorities exactly what was needed to be recognized as such. It would be unimaginable now for the Court to tell Palestine that, while it followed every step required of it, it doesn’t matter because judges have decided now that it’s not enough. As Prosecutor noted, “it would be strange to permit Palestine to join the court, but to deny to it the natural consequence of its accession, which is to exercise the court’s jurisdiction on its territory.” It wouldn’t just be strange, though. It would be insulting and unjust.

Any decision by ICC Judges to deny Palestinian statehood (for the purposes of the Rome Statute) would also have devastating political consequences for the Court’s relations with key constituencies. There are states, state actors, as well as critics expecting the ICC to keel before the political bullying of powerful states. It will only fulfil their view that the Court only works against the weak and bows before the strong.

Netanyahu’s bumbling and bullying campaign to discredit the Court

Palestine became a member-state of the ICC in January 2015. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also held the same position then, had over five years to organize an effective campaign to preclude the Court’s Prosecutor seeking to investigate atrocities in Palestine. He has failed to do so but has, incidentally, raised the costs of opposing an ICC investigation into Palestine. Continue reading

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The thousands still missing: Sri Lanka after decades of war and a decade of ‘peace’

B. Aloka Wanigasuriya joins JiC for this post on the ongoing injustice of missing persons in Sri Lanka. Aloka is an Australian lawyer and a PhD scholar at the Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen (Denmark).

Sri Lankan mothers from the “Dead and Missing Person’s Parents” organisation holding photographs of their loved ones during a protest in Jaffna (Photo: AFP)

During Sri Lanka’s civil war and following its aftermath, many people disappeared. To this day, many still remain missing. 15 November 2019 marked 1000 days since family members of missing persons from the formerly war-ravaged north of Sri Lanka started protesting against the disappearances. The continuous roadside protests, held in five key locations across the island nation, Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu, Trincomalee, Vavuniya and Maruthankarny (Jaffna district), started in January 2017. Those protesting, seek detailed information regarding their missing loved ones and demand closure. However, their calls for answers seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Instead of providing them with answers, last week, the Sri Lankan president stated that their relatives were dead. Against this backdrop, this post outlines the general state of reports of disappearances that emerged during and following the civil war, steps taken in Sri Lanka to address the situation and a brief, final note on prospects for obtaining justice and answers.

The civil war in Sri Lanka, fought between Sri Lankan government forces and the guerrilla force, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), came to an end in May 2009. An estimated 20,000 individuals, many of whom belong to the minority Tamil ethnic group, are still missing. Most disappeared during and following the final stages of the war. Some were forcibly conscripted by the LTTE and have not been heard from since. Others disappeared throughout the 26-year-long civil war but well before the final military offensive too place. Stories abound of how some surrendered themselves to the security forces during the last stages of the war, never to be heard from or seen again.

One such incident relates to the Tamil Catholic priest, Father G.A. Francis Joseph who is said to have negotiated the surrender of over a 100 (some claim the number to be as high as 360) individuals (including LTTE members and young children) to the Sri Lankan military in Mullaitivu. They were last seen being driven away in military busses. They are still missing. Others are claimed to have been abducted by security forces before the civil war entered its final stages. During the formal screening process for internally displaces persons (IDPs), some were arrested by the authorities at military checkpoints for suspected LTTE membership. Family members believed they would be processed by the military and then returned back to their families. Some still believe that their relatives are alive and being held by the security forces. This blog post does not attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of all missing persons cases. However, the reality remains that a decade has elapsed since the end of the civil war with relatives having received little or no information regarding the whereabouts of the missing individuals or what happened to them.

Hopes were dashed last week when the newly elected Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa (the former controversial Sri Lankan defence secretary during the last phases of the civil war), stated that those who disappeared during the final stages of the war were dead. Rajapaksa has informed the United Nations Resident Coordinator Hanna Singer that his government would provide the necessary support to families of the missing persons. He has further contended that most of the missing individuals were either taken or forcibly conscripted by the LTTE. According to the president, following necessary investigations, death certificates would be issued for missing persons (indicating the end of the practice of issuing ‘certificates of absence’ for missing persons, which started in 2016).

During the weekend, many took to social media, declaring the president’s statement insufficient. Some see it as a way to bypass accountability and avoid investigations. Many demand an explanation as to how the missing persons perished and where their remains are located. Human rights activists had previously expressed similar views. For instance, the executive director of the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives, Dr. Pakiasothi Saravanamuthu, places emphasis on the quest for information regarding what happened to the missing persons.

Previously, families of some of the missing persons filed habeas corpus applications in Sri Lankan courts seeing information regarding the whereabouts of their loved ones. They have also met with senior government officials including the former Sri Lankan president (during his term in office), but to no avail. Continue reading

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