Victims and rights activists including the daughter of slain Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge are dismayed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to name former IGP Jayantha Wickramaratne as Commissioner to the Office of Missing Persons.
This is the second highly problematic appointment to the Office mandated to investigate the truth about thousands of persons missing and disappeared in Sri Lanka.
On May 20, the Parliamentary Council, which ratifies President Rajapaksa’s nominees to so-called independent commissions, recommended the former IGP as a member of the Office of Missing Person (OMP).
Wickramaratne has been linked to the conspiracy to conceal vital evidence in the Lasantha Wickrematunge murder investigation. The former IGP was questioned by the CID in connection with efforts to derail the Lasantha Wickrematunge murder investigation in 2009, after three police officers provided statements alleging as IGP, Wickramaratne had directed officers from the Mount Lavinia police to deliberately conceal evidence including the slain journalist’s notebook, found inside his car after he was murdered.
Tweeting about the appointment on Sunday (30), Ahimsa Wickrematunge, daughter of the slain Sunday Leader Editor said the appointment proved President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s contempt for victims of atrocities. As IGP, Wickramaratne had “derailed investigations” into her father’s murder, Wickrematunge claimed.
As IGP, Jayantha Wickremaratne derailed investigations into my father’s murder. Appointing him as @ompsrilanka Commissioner proves @GotabayaR’s contempt for victims of atrocities. Heartbreaking for victims of #enforceddisappearances @SP_Eknaligoda & others still seeking answers. https://t.co/nGJEQu6J2f pic.twitter.com/EeNtAQ1iXP
— Ahimsa Wickrematunge (@awickrematunge) May 30, 2021
“Heartbreaking for victims of enforced disappearances Sandya Ekneligoda and others still seeking answers,” Wickrematunge’s daughter tweeted.
Wickramaratne went to Supreme Court to pre-empt his arrest after he was questioned by the CID about the whereabouts of Lasantha Wickrematunge’s notebook found inside the journalist’s car after the murder. In March 2018, former IGP Jayantha Wickremaratne received a stay order against his arrest by the CID from the Supreme Court.
The former Police Chief became a person of interest in the CID’s Lasantha Wickrematunge murder investigation after statements were made by three police officers, including a former DIG, that evidence had been concealed or destroyed to botch the investigation into the journalist’s murder on Wickremaratne’s directive.
An interim order staying the former IGP’s arrest by the CID was granted by former Supreme Court Justice Eva Wanasundera.
Former Justice Wanasundera was the senior judge on the bench that issued a stay order against Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s arrest by the FCID in connection with the 2006 MiG-27 deal. Details about the corrupt military procurement was extensively reported in Wickrematunge’s Sunday Leader newspaper when Gotabaya Rajapaksa held office as Defence Secretary.
The 20th Amendment was enacted, granting the Head of State untrammelled executive control, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has actively undermined independent commissions and state agencies tasked with delivering on accountability and reconciliation by appointing tainted officials to lead them.
In July 2021, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appointed Wanasundara Chairperson of the Bribery Commission.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa named former Supreme Court Justice Upali Abeyratne OMP Chairman in December 2020.
The appointment was made after Abeyratne, in his capacity as Chairman of the Presidential Commission investigating political victimization determined that several military officers indicted by the Attorney General on charges of abduction and murder should be exonerated and were victims of a political witch-hunt.
Among the accused Abeyratne exonerated were Wasantha Karannagoda and dozens of former Navy officers indicted for the abduction and murder of 11 Tamil boys in 2009 and military intelligence officers, including Lt. Col. Shammi Kumararatne who are indicated on charges of abduction and conspiracy to murder journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda.
Both the Navy Abductions and the Eknaligoda disappearance are emblematic cases before the Office of Missing Persons that Abeyratne now chairs.
Activists fear this latest inclusion of Wickramaratne as commissioner at the Office, will not only ensure OMP investigations reach a dead end, but will also endanger witnesses and victims who have provided sworn statements and testimony to the formerly independent office, activists fear.
The OMP, which has functioned nominally since the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019, formed the cornerstone of the Government’s assertions at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva that Sri Lanka had the domestic capacity to pursue truth and justice for victims of the 26-year civil war and two violent insurrections.
The caseload of missing persons complaints before the OMP is in the tens of thousands. Under the Chairmanship of President’s Counsel Saliya Peiris the OMP made several proactive interventions, including by funding the excavation and investigation of a mass gravesite in Mannar.
Sri Lanka’s disappearances caseload is the second larges before the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances. Cycles of political violence have established a clear pattern of enforced disappearance being used a tool of state terror and repression against critics and dissidents, rights groups say.
In March, the Government insisted that as a sovereign nation, it must be permitted to pursue reconciliation and accountability strategies to reckon with the legacy of war nationally, through agencies tasked with truth-seeking and reparations like the OMP and the Office of Reparations. Both offices were established by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Government, in line with its post-war transitional justice commitments to the UN and other international partners. The SLPP-led Opposition opposed the establishment of both offices when they were being enacted by statute of Parliament.