U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake says Sri Lanka may face international pressure if does not credibly address accusations by a United Nations expert panel that its armed forces may have committee war crimes.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake's visit to Colombo Wednesday coincides with a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. "I talked with all of the senior government officials about the need for the government of Sri Lanka to engage positively with the U.N. Human Rights Council," he said.
Earlier this week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon formally distributed to the council copies of a report by a panel of experts dealing with the final months of the country's decades-long civil war.
Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil victims of a shell attack wait outside a makeshift hospital in Tiger controlled No Fire Zone in Mullivaaykaal, May 10, 2009
That report, published in April, accuses both the the military and Tamil Tiger rebels of atrocities. But it says that the evidence indicates Sri Lankan forces killed tens of thousands of civilians in its final 2009 push to defeat the Tamil rebels. Sri Lanka harshly dismisses the report as biased and unsubstantiated.
International human rights groups are calling on the U.N. Human Rights Council to form an independent investigative body to probe the war's end - something the secretary-general said earlier this year he lacked the mandate to do.
Assistant Secretary of State Blake noted that a senior Sri Lankan delegation is in Geneva briefing council members on Sri Lanka's own investigation. It is being conducted by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which was appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in May 2010. Its report is due out in November.
"We hope that this will be a credible report, and that it will take a look at many of the issues that have surfaced, including in the [United Nations'] Panel of Experts Report," he said.
The U.N. panel's report and human rights groups have already labelled the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission process as inadequate. Blake says the United States will wait to examine the Sri Lankan report before it makes any major policy decisions on the alleged abuses.
"We're not in the business of making threats to our friends. We're in the business of trying to achieve progress," he said. "We think that there needs to be a full, credible, and independent accounting and accountability for those individuals who may have violated international humanitarian law. There will be pressure if it's not a credible process, there will be pressure for some sort of alternative mechanism."
Blake noted accountability is just one piece of the broader picture of Sri Lanka's reconciliation process. He says he is encouraged by the imminent resumption of talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil National Alliance.