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UN Rights Chief Navi Pillay Raises Alarm Over Civilian Deaths in Sri Lankan War

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has renewed her call for an international investigation into violations allegedly committed by Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels during the final months of their decades-long civil war.  The High Commissioner has presented a progress report on the global situation of human rights at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The top U.N. human-rights official, Navi Pillay, says civilians suffer the most in all armed conflicts.  She says the neglect of basic human rights, as well as discriminatory practices, often are at the root of armed conflict.  And, that is why, she says, it is crucial to uphold the human rights of the victims.

She says it is important to get to the truth, to have independent human-rights monitors and the media present in situations of conflict.  But, she notes independent observers were not able to access either the conflict zone or the camps for displaced people in northern Sri Lanka.

The government has been accused of using heavy weaponry in a so-called civilian safe zone and the Tamil rebels of using civilians as human shields. 

But since there were no witnesses to what was happening, Pillay says it is hard to corroborate these allegations.  

"A comprehensive process of accountability for human-rights violations committed by all sides should be carried out," Pillay said. "To that end, I have called for an independent international inquiry.  On June 2nd, speaking before this Council, the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka stated that his government is committed to a reconciliation scheme.  This commitment is welcome." 

Pillay says she believes accountability is a prerequisite for the attainment of justice and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans and a foundation for lasting peace.

At the end of May, the U.N. Human Rights Council held a special session on the human-rights situation in Sri Lanka.   The high commissioner's plea for an international investigation went unheeded.

Turning her attention to other areas of concern, High Commissioner Pillay highlights the grave situation of civilians caught in conflict in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, the Palestinian Territories and Colombia.

She notes the terrible impact fighting in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, is having on civilians, aid workers, human-rights defenders and journalists.

"During the past weeks, many civilians were killed, hundreds injured and thousands displaced by clashes between pro and anti-government forces in Mogadishu," she said.  "Women are particularly at risk of violent attacks for which they have no effective recourse.  The fighting must be stopped.  Countering impunity of perpetrators for their past and current atrocities must be a priority in order to achieve justice and deter further violations." 

Pillay expresses her outrage at the lack of justice and horrific levels of sexual attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo.   She deplores the treatment of human-rights defenders, humanitarian workers and U.N. national staff In Sudan's conflict-ridden Darfur Province.  She says the workers are subject to arbitrary arrests, detentions, ill treatment and torture. 

The U.N. official says the recent clashes between the Chadian rebels and government forces have added to the widespread violations and abuses by both parties in the country. 

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