The United Nations human rights chief today urged further investigations into the conduct of the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka after a UN panel into those events found there were credible reports that both Government forces and Tamil rebels had committed war crimes.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she hoped that the “disturbing new information” in the report of the three-member panel – which was released yesterday by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – “will shock the conscience of the international community into finally taking serious action.
“As the report itself says, addressing violations of international humanitarian or human rights law is not a matter of choice or policy; it is a duty under domestic and international law,” Ms. Pillay said, according to a press release issued by her office in Geneva.
The panel was set up to advise Mr. Ban on accountability issues relating to the final stages of the conflict, which ended in May 2009 when Government forces declared victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Thousands of people died during the conflict, which raged on and off for three decades, and the fighting ended with large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs), especially in the country’s north.
The panel found credible allegations of serious violations committed by the Government, including killing of civilians through widespread shelling and the denial of humanitarian assistance.
The credible allegations regarding the LTTE concerned numerous serious violations, including using civilians as a human buffer and killing civilians attempting to flee LTTE control.
The panel’s first recommendation is that the Sri Lankan Government should respond to the serious allegations by initiating an effective accountability process beginning with genuine investigations.
“The eyewitness accounts and credible information contained in this report demand a full, impartial, independent and transparent investigation,” Ms. Pillay said. “Unless there is a sea change in the Government’s response, which has so far been one of total denial and blanket impunity, a full-fledged international inquiry will clearly be needed.”
The High Commissioner noted that the panel found that the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission convened by the Sri Lankan Government was deeply flawed and did not satisfy the joint commitment of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Mr. Ban for an accountability process.
She urged the Government to implement a series of measures suggested by the panel, including: repealing the Emergency Regulations and modifying provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act; resolving outstanding cases of disappearances; and ensuring due process for the remaining LTTE detainees.
Ms. Pillay stressed that in the long term, “justice will be essential if there is to be true reconciliation after this terrible and divisive conflict.”
She added that she remains very concerned about the protection of witnesses and civil society activists, including journalists, in Sri Lanka, especially in the wake of “calls from certain elements for reprisals in light of the panel’s report.”
Mr. Ban announced yesterday that he is carefully reviewing the report’s conclusions and recommendations.
Speaking to reporters today after briefing Security Council members in a closed-door session, he said he hoped that the Sri Lankan Government would give the UN “a constructive response that points the way towards national reconciliation and peace.”
He stressed that the report was released “as a matter of transparency and accountability,” adding that he hoped UN Member States would study it closely.
The panel members were Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia (chair), Yasmin Sooka of South Africa and Steven Ratner of the United States. They began their work in September 2010.