The U.N. Human Rights Council has begun a special session on the human-rights situation in Sri Lanka. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights opened the session by calling for an international investigation into alleged war crimes by the government and vanquished Tamil Tiger rebels.
This special session, the 11th, barely squeaked by with enough votes from the 47-members to make it onto the U.N. Council agenda.
But U.N. Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay told delegates the rules of international human rights and international humanitarian law must be upheld at all times.
She says there are strong reasons to believe both the government and Tamil Tiger rebels committed abuses against civilians and urged the Council to mount an independent and credible international investigation into recent events.
Human Rights and Extreme Poverty Special Investigator Magdalena Sepulveda seconded this request.
"A true reconciliation process requires an assessment of what has happened and must ensure accountability and an end to impunity. In this regard, we recommend the establishment of an effective mechanism to impartially inquire into all violations committed," Sepulveda said.
Both Pillay and Sepulveda criticized Sri Lanka for keeping about 300,000 displaced people interned in government-run camps. They and a host of human-rights organizations demanded aid agencies be given free access to the camps so they can provide the Tamils with critical relief.
They said independent human-rights monitors and the media should be allowed to enter the camps. They said the Tamils should be given freedom of movement and allowed to leave their camps if they wished.
Sri Lankan Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights Mohinda Samarasinghe dismissed charges the Tamils are being denied aid.
"Over 250,000 of our citizens, who were held hostage by the LTTE in the north were rescued by our forces and are being looked after and cared for as we speak. There was a reference a little while ago about lack of food. There was a reference a little while ago about starvation, about malnutrition, which is furthest from the truth. Today we have all of the U.N. agencies working side by side with government officials in each and every one of these camps," Samarasinghe said.
A group of Tamil activists in exile were not persuaded by this argument. They said the government claims it has won the war. But, they added, the government has not won the peace. For that to happen, they said the Sinhalese-dominated government must address the grievances of the Tamil people and cease treating them like second-class citizens.