ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 16, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 16

Govt.-ICJ row over Muttur killings continues

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) this week again urged the Sri Lanka Government to identify and prosecute those responsible for the killing of 17 French aid workers in Sri Lanka in Muttur last year, but a senior Government official dismissed ICJ's fresh call saying that they were acting "irresponsibly".

In a news release from Geneva, the ICJ repeated its demand and asked the Government to fulfil its commitment made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to set up an independent task force within the criminal justice system to "reinvogorate the investigation".The Sunday Times last week reported that the Sri Lanka delegation to the recent preliminary round of talks at the Geneva based UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) had refused to meet a delegation from the ICJ until an apology was tendered by the ICJ for the public slur on the country due to a previous false media release.

The ICJ release on Friday stated that it had in fact met the Sri Lanka delegation headed by Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and Attorney General C.R. De Silva.

The ICJ release stated that a delegation of theirs had met the Sri Lanka delegation on September 5 in Geneva at the request of the Government, and that the ICJ called on the Government to fulfil its commitments made in relation to the Muttur killings.

The ICJ said the contentious issue of the calibre of the bullets found in the bodies of the aid workers killed was crucial and held the Government to an earlier promise by Minister Samarasinghe to obtain the services of an Australian ballistic expert for the task.

In a backgrounder to the issue, the ICJ release pointed out that it had raised serious concerns about the transmission of the ballistic evidence by police, and asked that the sealed parcels must be opened by an Australian expert. In a second report it had raised issue about the "significant discrepancy" concerning the calibre of a bullet found in the cranium of one of the victims.

They state that Dr. Mathew Dodd, an independent Australian forensic pathologist was invited by the Government to observe a second post-mortem on the aid workers, where he had said that the bullets were of 5.56 mm calibre when the Government Analyst had said it was of 7.62 mm calibre. He had later corrected himself, but the ICJ release says that this was based "on reviewing a report prepared by the Sri Lanka Government Analyst and colour photographs provided by the Sri Lanka Government".

"To date, no independent ballistics expert has reviewed the original ballistics material", the ICJ release concludes. A senior official of the Sri Lankan delegation now back in Colombo told The Sunday Times that though the Sri Lanka delegation had met the ICJ delegation in Geneva it was not for substantive discussions, and confirmed the fact that they had refused to meet them until they tendered an apology for public statements made against the Sri Lankan investigative process by its senior official Michael Birnbaum QC.

The official said that the ICJ had jumped into conclusions making "factually incorrect interpretations to certain aspects of the investigations" when Dr. Dodd had made an erroneous report, and is now refusing to admit it. He said that a man of the stature of Mr. Birnbaum QC and the ICJ were acting "irresponsibly", and asked the ICJ to act with a "better sense of responsibility". ICJ was "giving a twist" to Dr. Dodd's reports, he added. The ICJ release makes no mention of the fact that the Sri Lanka delegation had asked for an apology from it.

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