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Impunity for Past Crimes in Sri Lanka Could Trigger Renewed Conflict 

FILE - Family members of disappeared Tamil people holding pictures of their relatives protest during the visit of then-U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, Aug. 27, 2013.

U.N. human rights officials are alarmed by Sri Lanka’s lack of accountability for past crimes, warning it could result in a resurgence of the same kind of violations and abuse that triggered past armed conflict.

Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long civil war with the Tamil Tigers ended nearly 12 years ago. Since then, U.N. officials say successive governments have done nothing to redress the population’s grievances, hold perpetrators of crimes accountable and provide justice and reparations to the victims of the war.

A hard-hitting report issued by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights finds impunity for grave human rights violations and abuses by all sides is more entrenched than ever.

Human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani tells VOA her agency has documented many cases of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and other violations of international humanitarian law.

“There have been many Commissions of Inquiry that were appointed by successive governments to look into the kinds of grave human rights violations that have been committed, but none of them have yielded any concrete results…This current government has moved beyond merely a slow process of accountability to active political obstruction of accountability," she said.

The report documents a pattern of intensified surveillance, harassment and intimidation of civil society organizations, human rights defenders and victims, lawyers and journalists.

Of particular concern, it notes, is the increasing marginalization of Tamil and Muslim minorities. Authors of the report warn divisive and discriminatory rhetoric from the highest state officials risks generating further polarization and violence.

Shamdasani says it is troubling to see many of the officials who are part of the current administration were in power when the conflict was ending, and many atrocities committed.

“Since last year, the President has appointed at least 28 serving or former military and intelligence personnel to key administrative posts. So, these are people who remain in power. And what is really worrying is that some of these officials were actually implicated in alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity during the final years of the conflict," she said.

U.N. rights chief Michele Bachelet says the Sri Lankan government has demonstrated its inability or unwillingness to hold anyone accountable. Therefore, she is urging governments to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators of crimes in their national courts under an accepted system of international justice.

Shamdasani says the Sri Lankan government was given the report before publication.

A Sri Lankan official told Reuters the accusations in the report regarding the government’s actions are wrong.

Shamdasani says some of the government’s extensive comments have been incorporated into the report, which will be formally presented to the Human Rights Council on February 24.