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Central & South Asia
Sri Lanka allows UN war crime visit
Colombo modifies position on UN panel of experts by allowing them to present evidence on alleged war crimes.
Last Modified: 20 Dec 2010 18:51 GMT
Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a local body to probe war crimes, but few believe it is credible [EPA]

Sri Lanka has announced that it will allow the UN to present evidence in an investigation into war crimes alleged to have taken place during the country's civil war. 

Colombo had previously said that it would not allow a three-member UN panel appointed by Ban Ki Moon to enter Sri Lanka to look into the alleged war crimes.

Instead Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's president, set up the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a national body to carry out investigations.

Doubts over the LLRC's impartiality prompted major human rights groups to refuse to work with it.

The foreign ministry on Sunday announced that foreign representatives were welcome to present evidence to the LLRC.

"In the event of the panel of the Secretary-General wishing to present representations to the commission, the Ministry of External Affairs will make the arrangements that are necessary to enable the panel to do so," the ministry said in a statement.

"This position has already been conveyed through diplomatic channels, to the United Nations in New York," the ministry added, without giving any details.

Body criticised

The LLRC has been widely criticised by international human rights groups for lacking independence from the Sri Lankan government, which has been accused of violating the laws of war in its crushing defeat of the Tamil Tiger separatists after a quarter of a century of civil war. 

After the conflict,  the UN had hoped to send an "expert panel" to Sri Lanka to report back to the UN secretary-general, but the Sri Lankan government blocked it, saying that war crimes investigations were a national matter.   

James Ross, a legal expert at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that the Sri Lankan government is not capable of carrying out credible investigations alone.  "One hopes that they have now recognised that this expert panel is an important body," he said.

"The Sri Lankan commission does not really have credibility. It won't conduct impartial investigations. If the Sri Lankan commission could be of assistance to the expert panel that would be useful."

Fresh doubts

But in Sri Lanka, experts doubted that the UN investigators will be allowed to operate freely even if they are allowed into the country.

"There is no point in the UN panel coming here, if it is only allowed to meet only the LLRC and not allowed to meet the civil society and people affected by the war and to travel around the country," a political analyst told the Reuters news agency, asking not to be named fearing repercussions.

"The submissions the LLRC have got is mostly on reconciliation for the future and not what happened in the last day of the war. The U.N. panel is meant to see what happened in the last day of the war." 

The expert panel is not be mandated to issue a formal report, but would instead present their findings to the UN secretary-general.

Sri Lanka has faced sanctions over its failure to set up an independent probe into alleged war crimes, with the European Union withdrawing trade concessions worth $150 million a year over the issue.

US diplomatic cables, released by the WikiLeaks website, also put the alleged human rights abuses in the spotlight, revealing that the United States believes there is little prospect Sri Lanka will hold anyone accountable for the bloody end of the war because top government figures are involved.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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