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Thursday, 07 June 2018 17:51

Kandy DIRC Sets Up Citizens’ Truth Commission

In a citizens’ response to the riots that took place in Kandy in March this year, a Citizens’ Truth Commission was set up by the Kandy District Inter Religious Committee (DIRC) to find the root causes of the violence.

The members appointed as commissioners were retired judge Justice W.M.P.B. Waravewa, Professor S.A. Kulasooriya, Professor Milton Rajaratne, lawyer Chrismal Warnasooriya, Professor Amarakeerthi Liyanage, former Kandy Government Agent A.M.L.B. Polgolla, former Director General Mahaweli Authority Dr. M.B. Adikaram, Dr. Kanchana Kohombange, lawyer M.K.M. Shahin Hasan, former Director General Agriculture Department S.L. Weerasena, and university lecturer R. Ramesh.

The commissioners assigned two expert committees to collect the evidence from the victims as well as from other people in areas where the most serious incidents had taken place.

The investigation conducted by the commission was preceded by a public notice in the national newspapers announcing the setting up of the Citizens’ Truth Commission, its terms of reference and the names of its commissioners.

The proceedings of the hearing were conducted in public with the news media in attendance. Most of those who attended the final meeting in Kandy were those who believed in the values of pluralism and people’s participation in governance and represented a cross section of society, which demonstrated the essentially democratic, pluralistic and human rights respecting nature of the Sri Lankan intelligentsia.

Explaining the rationale for the setting up of the commission coordinator of the Kandy DIRC, Gamini Jayaweera, said that shortly after the anti Muslim riots the government had announced that it would set up a commission of inquiry to ascertain the truth of what happened, whether it was spontaneous, or organized, and if so who was behind the riots. But the government’s inquiry has yet to happen. The police investigations also appeared to be at a standstill. Although several ground level perpetrators had been arrested by the police, the masterminds behind the scenes still remained at liberty.

The setting up of the Citizens’ Truth Commission can be seen as a civil society response to the failure of the government to find and publicise the truth of what lay behind the anti Muslim riots. It is also evidence of the silent majority who could be won over to the cause of peace building and national reconciliation if there were sufficient political champions of those concepts as opposed to champions of crude ethnic nationalism.

Last year another civil society initiative led by NPC in partnership with the DIRC took place in Kandy in the form of a Truth Forum, which looked into the human rights violations that had taken place in the past. It was well received by those who participated and provided the inspiration for the present Citizens’ Truth Commission process.