Posted on June 30th, 2021



Paranagama report was discussed by me in two earlier essays. The essays can be accessed at

 The Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints regarding Missing Persons” known as the Paranagama Commission, was appointed in August 2013. The scope of the Commission’s mandate was expanded into a second mandate by Gazette notification on 15 July 2014, to address the facts and circumstances surrounding civilian loss of life and the question of the responsibility of any individual, group or institution for violations of international law during the conflict that ended in May 2009.

 The Commission consisted of Maxwell P. Paranagama (Chairman), Manohari Ramanathan and Suranjana Vidyaratne, Director General of Census and Statistics. There was a Legal Advisory Council comprising a team of international legal and military experts, with long years of experience in war crimes courts  to assist the Commission. This team consisted of Sir Desmond de Silva QC, Prof. David Crane, Sir Geoffrey Nice and Maj. Gen. John Holmes.  Obtaining the expert onion of these legal luminaries and the military opinion of Maj Gen Homes was a master stroke, observed Shamindra Ferdinando.

Sir Desmond had worked in Human Rights and war crime issues in Sierra Leone, Belgrade and Syria. Desmond de Silva had   provided the Paranagama Commission with a comprehensive analysis of the law of armed conflict in relation to the allegations against Sri Lanka.

 Prof. Crane was the Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and had spent 30 years working for the US federal government. Sir Geoffrey was the deputy prosecutor to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Major General John Holmes UK, former Commanding Officer of the SAS, provided an independent Military Report on the conflict.

The Advisory Council was  also supported by  other experts such as Mr. Rodney Dixon, QC (UK/ South Africa), Professor Michael Newton (USA, Vanderbilt University) who formerly served as the Senior Advisor to the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, Commander William Fenrick (Canada), Professor Nina Jorgensen (Harvard, Chinese University of Hong Kong).

The   opinions of the legal team were in Sri Lanka’s favor. They took the bottom out of the  case that the western powers, the Tamil Separatist Movement, western funded NGOs and the largely western funded OHCHR was trying to build up against Sri Lanka ,observed Shamindra Ferdinando.  If the Holmes report had been tabled before the UNHRC that alone could have turned things in Sri Lanka‘s favor.

The Paranagama Commission report was specifically targeted by the UNHRC at its September session, in Geneva in 2015. The legal opinion of these experts were so damaging to the war crimes project against Sri Lanka that the OHCHR recommended that the Paranagama Commission be abolished all together, so that any report it puts out will have no validity. The Commission should be disbanded and its cases transferred to a credible investigating body set up in connection with the families of the disappeared, Geneva said.

There was a carefully orchestrated NGO campaign against Desmond de Silva.  38 NGOs wrote to the President, asking that Desmond be removed from his position of advisor. Instead, Desmond de Silva was appointed as an advisor to Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe, so that his hands were tied.

The pressure tactics worked, said Shamindra. The Paranagama Commission gave in and tweaked the findings to please the powers that be. The legal opinions of Desmond and the rest were not included as annexures in the Paranagama report. Only the military assessment of Maj Gen john Holmes was included. Had the annexures been published that would have been a legal weapon against Eelam. But Island” newspaper published the legal opinions in full  and soon everybody knew what the team of lawyers had said.

Despite the additional time requested by the Commission to complete investigating complaints received, the Commission was wound down. The Paranagama Commission report and Udalagama commission report were tabled in Parliament      along with the UNHRC report on alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka on 20.10.2015.

The value of the Paranagama Commission report is that for its 2nd Mandate it has reviewed a great deal of material already in the public domain, both primary and secondary. They include ‘Darusman Report’ (2011), the ‘LLRC Report’ (2011), Petrie Report 2011), the Sooka Report (2014) ‘An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka 2009—2014’, the Reports to Congress by the US State Department (2009), reports by the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International, the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), Human Rights Watch, and many others.” It is unlikely that a more comprehensive and authoritative examination of the last phase of the war has been compiled thus far, observed Sanja Jayatilleke.

The Paranagama report said that it aimed to analyze “the complex legal standards applicable to military operations such as those that occurred in the final phase of the Sri Lankan conflict and to apply them to the unique set of factual circumstances that presented itself during the relevant time period” “This exercise has not been adequately carried out in the existing report of the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (Darusman Report)”.

Paranagama Commission rejected the Darusman report. The Paranagama Commission also rejected the suggestion that civilians were either targeted directly or indiscriminately by the Sri Lanka Army as part of an alleged genocidal plan. Paranagama Commission found that the principal reason for loss of life during the last phase of the war was the hostage   taking and use of human shields.

Paranagama Commission found that it was the LTTE that killed majority of Tamil civilians during the last 12 hours of the final siege. The Commission is satisfied that a large percentage of the LTTE cadres were killed and the vast majority of the civilians, who had been held hostage, were saved. (Continued)

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