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Lawmakers Pressure Indian Government on Alleged Sri Lanka War Crimes

  • Kurt Achin

Police officers stand guard in front of the UN head office during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, March 2, 2012. The UN Human Rights Council is currently debating a proposed resolution to probe alleged war crimes in the final months of the Sri Lankan civ

Police officers stand guard in front of the UN head office during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, March 2, 2012. The UN Human Rights Council is currently debating a proposed resolution to probe alleged war crimes in the final months of the Sri Lankan civ

India's parliament was the site of commotion Tuesday about the country's approach to allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka.

Instead of tending to scheduled budgetary issues, India's parliament had to be suspended for several hours after members began shouting for action on an upcoming United Nations vote on Sri Lanka. Indian politicians are trying to pressure the government into taking a firmer stand on its neighbor.

The United States is among the backers of a resolution to be voted on next week at the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling for more thorough investigation into alleged war crimes in the final months of Sri Lanka's civil war.

Last year, a panel of U.N.-appointed specialists said there was reason to suspect the Sri Lankan army may have deliberately attacked thousands of non-combatants in areas the government declared as safe. The same report accused Tamil separatist rebels of using hostages as human shields.

Human rights groups say the Sri Lankan government's own investigation of the period is inadequate, and domestic pressure is mounting within India for the government to clarify its position.

Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke Tuesday in parliament, hinting India may abstain on next week's resolution.

"Traditional position of India has always been, not only in respect of this case, that we normally do not support any country-specific resolution," said Mukherjee. "But what view on this issue will be taken will be determined as and when the time will be finalized in respect of the meeting of the Human Rights Commission."

Meenakshi Ganguly, India's representative for Human Rights Watch, said the emergence of images from the final days of Sri Lanka's war is fueling Indian demands for a firmer government position.

"It is only now when evidence is beginning to trickle out, pretty much because of the trophy videos that were taken by the military itself, that the Tamil community in India is extremely concerned about what happened in those last few weeks," said Ganguly.

Britain's Channel 4 produced a documentary on alleged Sri Lankan war crimes last year and plans to air a follow-up this week. It accuses the Sri Lankan military of summarily executing the Tamil separatist leader's young son.

Sri Lanka says Channel 4's material is fabricated and biased.

Ganguly, with Human Rights Watch, said India cannot continue with past policies of neutrality on Sri Lanka as it rises in global status and presses for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

"That civilians were caught in this, and that there were serious allegations of war crimes has to be investigated, and India will have to take a position on that," Ganguly said.

Next week's United Nations Human Rights Council vote is mainly symbolic, as the council has no authority to appoint an independent probe.

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