U.N. envoy accuses rights forum of turning blind eye

GENEVA Fri Jun 4, 2010 1:05pm EDT

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GENEVA (Reuters) - An independent United Nations expert accused the main U.N. rights forum on Friday of turning a blind eye to killings in much of the world while concentrating on alleged abuses by Israel.

Philip Alston, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said the 47-member-state Human Rights Council was losing credibility for mainly taking action against alleged violations in the Palestinian territories.

"I certainly regret the fact that the council itself has developed such a single-minded focus on violations in just one particular area while doing so little in almost any other area," Alston told a final news conference after six years in the post.

"I don't think it is sustainable. I think the council needs to improve its ability to have an impact on situations of human rights violations around the world."

The council agreed on Wednesday to set up an independent probe into what it called violations of international law in Israel's assault on a flotilla trying to bring aid to Gaza. Nine pro-Palestinian activists died in Monday's raid.

The Geneva forum, set up in June 2006, is effectively controlled by developing countries, among which the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC) has strong influence and regularly condemns the Jewish state.

Alston, while welcoming the council's move on Gaza, said he regretted its failure to act on Sri Lanka, both a year ago as the 25-year conflict drew to a close and at its current session.

PRINCIPLE

"I felt that the same principle would apply in relation to Sri Lanka where the allegations, at least the most recent by the International Crisis Group, suggest a figure of as high as 30,000 people who may have died in the last few months of the conflict," he said.

In a speech on Thursday, Alston called for an independent international inquiry, noting that the council had rejected the proposal a year ago, but said that there was now "a great deal of new evidence which would warrant effective action."

Sri Lanka's Attorney-General Mohan Pieris angrily took the floor on Friday to reject the allegations as "based on unsubstantiated, uncorroborated hearsay."

The government declared total victory a year ago over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which fought for over three decades to establish a separate nation for the Tamil minority.

Sri Lanka's government has repeatedly rejected charges of killings of civilians as grossly exaggerated and denied its security forces committed war crimes.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa last month named a panel to examine the lessons of the last seven years of the war, in terms of reconciliation and preventing future violence.

"I believe there is no realistic prospect this internal initiative will give serious meaningful consideration to very significant violations that exist," Alston said, adding that Sri Lankan domestic inquiries since 1977 had "all failed."

Alston said he regretted the council's failure to take action on his report on executions of juvenile criminals in Iran, and on police-run death squads in Kenya which had killed hundreds.

The Australian expert, who teaches at New York University School of Law, has visited 14 countries since taking up the mandate in 2004. A successor is to be appointed in coming weeks.

"If the council has the political will it can do even more to prevent unlawful killings around the world and to tackle widespread impunity," he said on Thursday.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Jonathan Lynn and Andrew Roche)

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