UN Wants Sri Lanka to Probe Rights Violations, War CrimesJennifer M. Freedman
Sri Lanka should probe alleged human-rights violations and war crimes that occurred during its 26-year civil war, according to a U.S.-sponsored resolution to be voted on today at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
A UN panel in April 2011 accused Sri Lanka’s military and Tamil Tiger rebels of committing serious violations of international law in the final stages of the conflict, resulting in as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Sri Lanka has denied the allegations and says the latest calls for an international inquiry amount to interference.
The resolution calls on the government to investigate reports that its troops slaughtered civilians in the weeks before Tamil guerrillas were crushed in May 2009. While the U.S. proposal initially called for an international inquiry, the revised draft urges Sri Lanka’s government to set up a mechanism for a credible, independent probe and to take action to guarantee justice and reconciliation in the country.
The government should “take all necessary additional steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability, including investigations of violations of international law, and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans,” according to the draft resolution to be presented in Geneva.
The alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka are threatening the stability of the coalition government in India, Sri Lanka’s northern neighbor and biggest trade partner.
The ethnic Tamil Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the former largest ally of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, withdrew from the coalition on March 19 over policy toward alleged war atrocities in Sri Lanka and yesterday ruled out reconciliation, leaving the premier as many as 44 seats short of the halfway mark in the lower house of parliament.
Navi Pillay, the UN’s top human-rights official, called last month for an international inquiry into rights abuses and war-time atrocities in Sri Lanka. Her deputy, Kang Kyung-wha, said yesterday in Geneva that the island nation had made only “selective, piecemeal commitments” rather than “adopting a comprehensive policy on accountability and reconciliation.”
Sri Lanka Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris vowed to reject the resolution, which is also sponsored by European Union nations including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and the U.K. as well as Canada. Sri Lanka dismissed a similar resolution in March 2012 that passed 24-15 with eight abstentions.
“Drawing disproportionate attention to Sri Lanka’s situation and introducing a resolution that seeks to discredit, single out and humiliate the country are unhelpful and counterproductive to Sri Lanka’s current reconciliation process,” Peiris wrote in a communique to other members of the rights council.
The latest UN draft was watered down at the insistence of India, according to G. Ananthapadmanabhan, who heads the Indian chapter of Amnesty International.
“The revised U.S. draft resolution is much softer in the context of the overwhelming volume of new evidence that has been unearthed” since the 2012 council resolution, he said in a statement. “There is a significant downgrading of the international community’s concerns regarding human-rights violations in Sri Lanka. It is disappointing that the resolution does not call for an international investigation.”
Indian Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram yesterday denied that his government had worked to weaken the resolution, which previously “urged” Sri Lanka to take action and now “encourages” it to act. A previous assertion that the Sri Lankan government had broken its own pledges on political devolution to Tamil areas has also been deleted from the document.