Srilankan peace facilitator Norway yesterday told Sri Lanka to address violations of international laws that allegedly took place during its battle against the LTTE in Srilanka. In a statement before the current session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session, Norway said that it expected Sri Lanka to implement recommendations of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and to address alleged violations of international law without delay. Norway said that it would support the US-resolution on Sri Lanka.
Norway also expressed concern over the situation in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Bahrain. Commenting further on Bahrain, Norway urged Bahrain to implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission of Inquiry. "We are concerned by the lack of accountability of officials within the security system," Norway said, accusing the government of imposing restrictions on UN investigators and NGO representatives.
Reconcile to avoid renewed conflict - Blake warns Lanka
The U.S. warned Tuesday that Sri Lanka risks renewed conflict unless it addresses war crimes allegations, while rights groups alleged that abuses by security forces continue, three years after fighting against Tamil rebels ended.
Sri Lanka has reacted angrily to the growing international pressure to account for thousands of civilians suspected to have died in the final months of the quarter-century-long war, when government forces finally crushed the separatist Tamil Tigers.
A new documentary by Britain’s Channel 4 television that screens Wednesday alleges that several war crimes suspects are now in senior government posts. It also details an alleged attack on a U.N. food distribution station by government forces, shelling of a “no-fire zone” intended as a refuge for Tamil civilians, and contends that the Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s 12-year-old son was executed.
Sri Lanka has dismissed the documentary as influenced by Tamil Tiger sympathizers, and a draft resolution introduced by the U.S. to the U.N. Human Rights Council as an interference in its affairs. The government has organized protests at home against the resolution, and a Cabinet minister has called for a boycott of U.S. products.
The 47-nation U.N. rights body in Geneva is expected to vote next week on the resolution that calls on Sri Lanka to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by both the government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels in the final months of the war in 2009, and implement the recommendations of its own reconciliation panel.
A U.N panel of experts reported in 2011 that tens of thousands of people may have been killed in those months, largely through shell fire by the government troops. The Tigers were accused of using civilians as human shields and shooting those who tried to escape.
In Washington, Robert Blake, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said that accountability and reconciliation were in Sri Lanka’s best interests, so “they really can achieve peace and security and not sow anger in their own community that could give rise to new violence.”“
Experience in many civil conflicts around the world has shown that countries that don’t take adequate measures to address reconciliation and accountability frequently experience a regeneration of the insurgency that they faced,” he told The Associated Press. “We could see very much that similar situation in Sri Lanka.”
He said that since the war ended, the government has done a lot to build roads and infrastructure in the north of the island where the Tigers had fought for a separate state, independent of the ethnic Sinhalese majority. But he said many Tamils in the north feel they remain under “military occupation.” He called for provincial elections to devolve power, and for Tamils to take more control of policing the region.
Sri Lanka, however, says the U.S.-backed resolution will only undermine its reconciliation efforts and fuel conflict. In Colombo on Tuesday, Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa said the resolution would encourage separatism and terrorism by the Tamil Tigers.“
If one is genuinely interested in Sri Lanka, it’s important to understand the ground reality and to give time and space for reconciliation,” a government spokesman, Bandula Jayasekara, said in an email to AP.
Rights activists say Sri Lanka’s homegrown efforts at accountability have so far fallen far short of international standards. And in a report launched in Geneva on Tuesday — rejected by the government as misinformation — Amnesty International said dozens of people in Sri Lanka have been abducted and tortured by security forces since 2009, and hundreds are being held in illegal detention. Among those detained are suspected Tamil Tigers, but also lawyers, journalists and human rights activists, said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific director.
He said the lack of accountability for severe rights violations “has sent a very clear signal to security forces throughout Sri Lanka that they can get away with abduction, torture, even murder, without having to fear that they will have to suffer any consequences for it.”
Additionally, rights activists have accused Sri Lanka of trying to intimidate Sri Lankan civil society representatives in Geneva. In an unusual move, the U.N. Human Rights Council’s president, Laura Dupuy Lasserre, voiced concern over unauthorized photographing and videoing of activists. Sri Lanka responded that those concerns were “pure conjecture” circulated by people with a political agenda.
Eileen Donahoe, U.S. ambassador to the council, said Sri Lanka had reacted “very negatively” to the resolution and has fought it “tooth and nail” but she expected it to pass.
She said the resolution has been toned down from an earlier version that sought a government action plan on accountability and reconciliation by June. It now calls for the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner to report to the council a year from now on the steps Sri Lanka has taken.
Sri Lanka enjoys considerable support in the U.N. rights body. Russia, China, Cuba and other Asian, African and Latin American countries are expected to vote against the resolution, AP reports.
Hundreds detained illegally in Sri Lanka: Amnesty
Sri Lanka is illegally holding hundreds of detainees who are vulnerable to torture and execution, claimed Amnesty International Tuesday in a report urging UN support for a probe into alleged war crimes.
The 63-page document entitled “Locked away: Sri Lanka’s security detainees,” said arbitrary and illegal detention and enforced disappearances were routine in Sri Lanka, where rights abuses “go uninvestigated and unpunished.”
“The LTTE had a horrific record of abuse, including killing and imprisoning its critics, but that did not, and does not, excuse the widespread and systematic mistreatment of detainees by the Sri Lankan government,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director.
The Amnesty report was published in Geneva where Sri Lanka is currently seeking to head off a US move to censure Colombo at the UN Human Rights Council.
Zarifi said “little has changed” since the end of the war with the LTTE, with security authorities still taking advantage of laws allowing them to imprison people for months or years without trial.
“The message coming from the Sri Lankan government is that those who dare criticise it risk harassment or even disappearance,” he said, adding peaceful government critics, including journalists, had been threatened and arrested.
Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris said two weeks ago there were 750 Tamil Tiger ex-combatants still in detention. Amnesty said former detainees had been harassed, re-arrested and physically attacked.
“If Sri Lanka is serious about ending impunity and committed to reconciling communities torn apart by conflict, the rule of law needs to be a large part of that equation,” Zarifi said.
He added that the war crimes alleged in Sri Lanka in the final stages of the war were “of such magnitude” that they risked undermining international justice mechanisms if unchallenged. “The UN must support an independent international investigation into these alleged crimes,” he said.