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Sri Lanka: UN War Crimes Probe Politically Motivated

  • Anjana Pasricha

A group of Sri Lankan Muslims shout slogans, protesting against the UN and U.S resolution against Sri Lankan war crimes, during a demonstration as they march towards U.S embassy in Colombo, March 26, 2014.

A group of Sri Lankan Muslims shout slogans, protesting against the UN and U.S resolution against Sri Lankan war crimes, during a demonstration as they march towards U.S embassy in Colombo, March 26, 2014.

Sri Lanka has denounced as politically motivated the United Nations approval of an international investigation into alleged atrocities committed during the final stages of the country’s civil war. While Sri Lanka has consistently denied accusations of war crimes, the U.N. has faulted Colombo’s own probes as not credible.

Sri Lankan Presidential Spokesman Mohan Samaranayake said sponsors of the resolution approved Thursday in the United Nations Human Rights Council did not take into consideration that his country was fighting terrorism during the civil war that ended five years ago.

Samaranayake told VOA the resolution is not about human rights. “This whole exercise is politically motivated, biased and unjust and one-sided. We believe it is not really about human rights. If it is about human rights, the sponsors of this resolution and its backers must commend the government of Sri Lanka because Sri Lankan government safeguarded and protected the supreme human right, that is the right to live,” he said.

The resolution is the toughest of three brought against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in recent years. The focus has been on war crimes committed by soldiers and rebels during the last months of the military operation in 2009 that crushed a three-decade long insurgency by Tamil Tiger rebels.

Supported by 23 countries in the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council, the latest resolution slams Sri Lanka for doing little to conduct a credible investigation or ensure accountability for the alleged atrocities, creating a need for an international investigation.

A U.N. panel set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the final stages of the conflict, including thousands of civilians. There have been reports of hospitals being bombed and Tamil Tiger supporters being tortured.

Global response to the U.N. resolution is mixed. Western countries like the United States have welcomed the measure, saying it sends a message that Sri Lanka must pursue lasting peace. But India, which had supported earlier calls for an impartial investigation, abstained from the vote this time over fears that an outside inquiry impinges on a country’s sovereignty.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's spokesman did not comment if his country will cooperate with international investigators. He said the government will study the whole process and then decide what to do next.

But Samaranayake said such a probe will be counterproductive. “This kind of exercise will further end in disaster. It will further aggravate the situation and it will impede the fragile reconciliation process that is going on in this country," stated Samaranayake. "Reconciliation is not one single act.”

The Sri Lankan government said it has been promoting investment, economic growth and resettlement of the Tamil ethnic minority in the north and the east, where the insurgency was based.

Jehan Perera at the independent National Peace Council in Colombo said while development and rehabilitation has taken place in the Tamil-dominated parts of the country, the government needs to do a great deal more to de-militarize the area.

“Even the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] cadre who have been rehabilitated and released are under tight surveillance and they are very vulnerable to being harassed by the Sri Lankan authorities. The military is essentially running the north and the east, the governors of the north and east are both from the military. It is difficult to hold a meeting in the north and east without the security forces coming in plain clothes and asking questions. The devolution of powers which the government pledged also has not happened," said Perera.

In recent years, the Sri Lankan government has been criticized by human rights groups for become increasingly authoritarian and continuing to intimidate human rights defenders and journalists.

Spokesperson Samaranayake said the country is being punished for ending terrorism and that it will rely on support from its people to tide over the latest challenge.
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