UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General on Tuesday announced the formation of a three-member panel to advise him on whether any crimes were committed in Sri Lanka during the final months of its war against Tamil Tiger rebels.
The Sri Lankan government had urged Ban not to appoint the advisory panel, saying it has its own commission to investigate possible human rights violations at the end of its war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam separatists in May 2009.
The panel will be chaired by Indonesia’s former Attorney General Marzuki Darusman, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters. Darusman was also recently named the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea.
The other two members of the panel, Nesirky said, are Yasmin Sooka, a human rights expert from South Africa, and Steven Ratner, a U.S. lawyer who advised the United Nations on how to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice in Cambodia.
Nesirky said Ban’s panel “will advise him on the issue of accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka.”
“The panel hopes to cooperate with concerned officials in Sri Lanka,” he said.
Amid heavy Western pressure, Ban has insisted the panel must go forward despite Sri Lanka’s urging against it, and assertion that it is a violation of its sovereignty.
Peggy Hicks of the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Ban’s panel was necessary since “the Sri Lankan government is unwilling to seriously investigate war-time human rights abuses.” She added that she hoped the panel would produce “a roadmap for an international investigation.”
Hicks urged Ban not to waste any time getting the long-delayed panel to work. “It’s important that there be no further delays,” she said.
HRW and other rights groups took advantage of last month’s first anniversary of the defeat of the Tamil Tigers to renew pressure for a probe of the end of the war, when they say tens of thousands of civilians died in the bloody final battles.
The government denies any war crimes took place, but rights groups say that both the government and the Tamil Tigers were guilty of human rights violations that resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths.
Nesirky said that the panel was not a formal investigative body and would be available to the Sri Lankan government, should they choose to take advantage of it. The group will have four months from the time it starts to complete its work.
If the panel decides to travel to Sri Lanka to interview witnesses and conduct research, it will need the permission of the government, Nesirky said.
Last month, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa named an eight-person “Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation” to look into the last seven years of the war. U.N. officials say the world body is interested in its progress.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman