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UN to probe Sri Lanka war 'abuses'
Three-member panel set up to probe alleged rights violations during war with LTTE.
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2010 09:27 GMT


Rights groups say the Sri Lankan government is unwilling to probe allegations of war crimes

The United Nations has set up a high-level panel to look into allegations of human rights abuses in the final months of the civil war in Sri Lanka.

Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general, launched the investigation on Tuesday.

His spokesman said it was established "to advise him on the issue of accountability with regards to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict".

Authorities in Sri Lanka have called the move "seriously flawed" and last week, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president, denied his troops fired at a "single civilian" and dismissed calls for a war crimes probe.

Rajiva Wijesinha, the former secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, and currently a member of the Sri Lankan parliament, told Al Jazeera that the panel's launch is an "extremely regrettable action".

'Picking on the small'

"It stems from pressure on the secretary-general [Ban Ki-moon] from so-called human rights groups and some so-called independent officials like Philip Alston [the UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions], who thinks it is easier to pick on a small country like Sri Lanka," he said.

"We have said very clearly that if we are given solid evidence of incidents, we will explore them, and the US state department pointed out particular issues which we will look into, but we have no time to focus on all these sorts of allegations by people with no sense of responsibility."

The government has denied its troops had committed war crimes during the conflict [EPA]

The panel is to be chaired by Marzuki Darusman, the UN's special rights investigator to North Korea. The other two members are Yasmin Sooka, a South African former member of the commission that investigated apartheid atrocities, and Steven Ratner, an US lawyer.

The panel expects co-operation from Sri Lankan officials and plans to complete its advisory work within four months.

Martin Nesirky, Ban's spokesman, said that the group had a primarily consultative role, and that "primary responsibility for investigating rests with the authorities of Sri Lanka".

But Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director with Human Rights Watch, told the AFP news agency that it has "long been abundantly clear that the Sri Lankan government is unwilling to seriously investigate wartime abuses".

"Secretary-General Ban's new panel will only be of value if it can quickly produce a roadmap for an independent investigation that the secretary-general implements," she added.

'Gun and charter'

Sri Lankan authorities have faced numerous allegations of war crimes during a final military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the northeastern part of the island last year that ended the 37-year war.

Videos, photographs and satellite images presented by media outlets and human rights groups as evidence of war crimes have been rejected as forgeries by Colombo.

"Our troops carried a gun in one hand and a copy of the human rights' charter in the other," Rajapaksa said at an anniversary victory parade attended by thousands of troops.

The government declared military victory over the LTTE in May 2009, after the group had been fighting for an independent territory since 1972.

According to the United Nations, between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed during the conflict, and 7,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the last four months of fighting.

The military has also been accused of executing surrendering fighters, allegations which the government has denied.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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