U.N. rights boss urges international war crimes probe for Sri Lanka

COLOMBO Wed Mar 26, 2014 3:08pm EDT

Marked human skulls are seen at a construction site in the former war zone in Mannar, about 327 km (203 miles) from the capital Colombo, January 16, 2014. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Marked human skulls are seen at a construction site in the former war zone in Mannar, about 327 km (203 miles) from the capital Colombo, January 16, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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COLOMBO (Reuters) - An international inquiry into alleged Sri Lankan war crimes would allow witnesses to testify after domestic probes failed to carry out credible investigations, the U.N. human rights chief said on Wednesday, on the eve of a resolution that is critical of the Indian Ocean island nation.

Sri Lanka is under international pressure to deal with war crimes allegedly committed in the final stage of a 26-year conflict, in which the army defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels five years ago.

The United States has presented a draft resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate "past abuses and to examine more recent attacks on journalists, human rights defenders, and religious minorities."

The vote is scheduled to be held on Thursday at the 47-member-state forum in Geneva.

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that none of Sri Lanka's various domestic mechanisms to investigate past violations had the independence to be effective or inspire confidence among victims and witnesses.

Addressing a session of the rights forum, she said new evidence continues to emerge and witnesses are willing to come forward to testify before international inquiries in which they have confidence and which can guarantee their protection.

"This shows that an international inquiry is not only warranted, but also possible, and can play a positive role in eliciting new information and establishing the truth where domestic inquiry mechanisms have failed," Pillay said.

"We are thus recommending the Council to establish an independent international inquiry mechanism to further investigate the alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and monitor domestic processes."

Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lanka's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, said that the move to set an international probe "reflects the preconceived, politicised and prejudicial agenda which has been relentlessly pursued with regard to Sri Lanka."

Hundreds of protesters marched towards the U.S. embassy in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, demanding that the resolution be withdrawn.

Abdul Razik, secretary general of Sri Lanka Thawheed Jama'ath, an Islamic religious organisation, said: "We do not want solutions from foreign countries for our problems."

PUNISH MILITARY

The U.N., through two previous U.S.-sponsored resolutions, has urged Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of a local panel appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which also urged punishment for soldiers involved in war crimes.

The third resolution comes after Sri Lanka failed to implement the recommendations, amid continued alleged rights violations. Sri Lanka has stubbornly rejected any international probe.

"Instead of investigating those responsible for atrocities, the Sri Lankan government has cynically absolved its forces of any wrongdoing and lashed out at those seeking accountability," said Human Rights Watch Geneva director Juliette De Rivero.

"Passing this resolution will send a strong message to all victims of Sri Lanka's war that they have not been forgotten," she said in a statement.

The alleged violations have continued despite the end of the war, with reports of intimidation of human rights defenders and journalists, and threats and violence against minority Muslims and Christians.

Pillay, in a report last month, said she had received information on 280 cases of threats and violence against Muslims and 103 against Christians in 2013 alone.

(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Shihar Aneez; editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Mark Trevelyan)

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Comments (13)
Metteyya wrote:
What is peculiar about this particular effort to use the UNHRC to investigate war crimes of a non-signatory country to the Rome ICC War Crimes Treaty like Sri Lanka is that it is toothless and worthless theater, as Sri Lanka can simply thumb its nose at the UNHRC regardless of their findings just like Israel has done in the past, including its recent thumbing of the nose at the Goldstone Report that found widespread and systematic human rights abuses and war crimes in Israeli action against Hamas.

The REAL question is what does the US/UK do after Sri Lanka thumbs its nose at the UNHRC when it finishes its probe? The UN Security Council is not an option since China and Russia will likely veto any war crimes action against Sri Lanka. And a trade spat (sanctions/boycotts/tarrifs) only harms the US and the UK, as Sri Lanka is currently running a trade deficit with these countries in that the dollar value of US/UK imports far exceeds the value of Sri Lankan exports to these countries. In fact, an organized popular boycott (similar to the very effective Halal certifications boycott) of US/UK products may occur even without US/UK sanctions, as the Sinhalese Buddhist majority (70% of population) are simply fed up with former colonist countries like the UK and the US trying to dictate their internal affairs.

So it looks like at the end of the day, the UNHRC resolution is all about making a lot of noise and headlines to publicly embarrass the Sri Lanka government for winning a war against the Tamil terrorists that the US and the UK thought was not winnable. But spending a lot of political and diplomatic capital to embarrass a particular country is not very prudent and harkens back to Bush and Reagan-era incoherent (Ugly American) foreign policy that attempts to trample on the sovereignty and independence of democratically elected governments simply because they pursue public policies with which the US disagrees.

War is ugly, particularly war against an internationally declared terrorist group like the Tamil Tigers whose main tactic of killing civilians and using them as a human shield is a war crime. Nonetheless, the Sri Lankan government has finally rid its country of this terrorist menace after a 35 year effort. This hard-won peace needs to be respected and not undermined by encouraging Tamil (mainly Christian) separatist elements with false hope of a separate state within Sri Lanka.

The US and the UK need to do the superpower-ego-crushing-thing and admit they have absolutely no power at all on the UN Security Council to force a war crimes investigation of Sri Lanka, and harness all of the energy and political capital they are wasting at the UNHRC with toothless resolutions and use it to help Sri Lanka with its extraordinary progress in reconciling its nation (you can’t even tell a civil war just happened in 99% of the country), rebuilding its infrastructure, and developing its economy.

Unless the US/UK changes its tune quickly, they are going to be on the outside looking in at one of the fastest growing economies in the region. And efforts to distract the government from growing the economy or blatant attempts to destabilize the country by supporting small residual Tamil separatist elements (maybe 3% of the population at best – Christian Tamils in the Far North of the country) are going to fall flat on their face.

Mar 26, 2014 3:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Metteyya wrote:
What is peculiar about this particular effort to use the UNHRC to investigate war crimes of a non-signatory country to the Rome ICC War Crimes Treaty like Sri Lanka is that it is toothless and worthless theater, as Sri Lanka can simply thumb its nose at the UNHRC regardless of their findings just like Israel has done in the past, including its recent thumbing of the nose at the Goldstone Report that found widespread and systematic human rights abuses and war crimes in Israeli action against Hamas.

The REAL question is what does the US/UK do after Sri Lanka thumbs its nose at the UNHRC when it finishes its probe? The UN Security Council is not an option since China and Russia will likely veto any war crimes action against Sri Lanka. And a trade spat (sanctions/boycotts/tarrifs) only harms the US and the UK, as Sri Lanka is currently running a trade deficit with these countries in that the dollar value of US/UK imports far exceeds the value of Sri Lankan exports to these countries. In fact, an organized popular boycott (similar to the very effective Halal certifications boycott) of US/UK products may occur even without US/UK sanctions, as the Sinhalese Buddhist majority (70% of population) are simply fed up with former colonist countries like the UK and the US trying to dictate their internal affairs.

So it looks like at the end of the day, the UNHRC resolution is all about making a lot of noise and headlines to publicly embarrass the Sri Lanka government for winning a war against the Tamil terrorists that the US and the UK thought was not winnable. But spending a lot of political and diplomatic capital to embarrass a particular country is not very prudent and harkens back to Bush and Reagan-era incoherent (Ugly American) foreign policy that attempts to trample on the sovereignty and independence of democratically elected governments simply because they pursue public policies with which the US disagrees.

War is ugly, particularly war against an internationally declared terrorist group like the Tamil Tigers whose main tactic of killing civilians and using them as a human shield is a war crime. Nonetheless, the Sri Lankan government has finally rid its country of this terrorist menace after a 35 year effort. This hard-won peace needs to be respected and not undermined by encouraging Tamil (mainly Christian) separatist elements with false hope of a separate state within Sri Lanka.

The US and the UK need to do the superpower-ego-crushing-thing and admit they have absolutely no power at all on the UN Security Council to force a war crimes investigation of Sri Lanka, and harness all of the energy and political capital they are wasting at the UNHRC with toothless resolutions and use it to help Sri Lanka with its extraordinary progress in reconciling its nation (you can’t even tell a civil war just happened in 99% of the country), rebuilding its infrastructure, and developing its economy.

Unless the US/UK changes its tune quickly, they are going to be on the outside looking in at one of the fastest growing economies in the region. And efforts to distract the government from growing the economy or blatant attempts to destabilize the country by supporting small residual Tamil separatist elements (maybe 3% of the population at best – Christian Tamils in the Far North of the country) are going to fall flat on their face.

Mar 26, 2014 3:20pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
sumith321 wrote:
Do you appoint a stooge from Putin’s inner circle to investigate Crimea problem? Whay this tamil woman and her South African buddies investigating Sinhalese?

Mar 26, 2014 3:31pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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