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Rauff Hakeem: Sri Lanka's quest for justice
Three years after Sri Lanka's government defeated the Tamil Tigers, war crimes allegations are still lingering.
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2012 12:15

Three years ago the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers in Northern Sri Lanka, fighting to separate themselves from the rest of the country, reached its final stages.

At this point war crimes may have been committed, according to a United Nations advisory committee created by Ban Ki-moon.

In the spring of 2009 around 330,000 civilians were trapped into an ever decreasing area – they were trying to flee the fighting but were kept hostage by the Tamil Tigers.

The army advancing into the Northern region of Vanni used widespread shelling causing large numbers of civilian deaths.
Government forces were firing at a United Nations hub, food distribution lines and near Red Cross ships that were coming to pick up civilians. They systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines, too.

At the same time the Tamil Tigers were forcing civilians to dig trenches, blurring the distinction between fighters and civilians, and refusing civilians permission to leave.

All this according to the UN team.

Although the larger country of Sri Lanka is now preoccupied with other issues - tourism is up, and so is cost of living - the question of justice is largely left unresolved and may threaten the peace long-term.

Unsatisfied by the government’s lack of action, a UN Human Rights Council resolution was adopted earlier this year, demanding the government fulfill its obligations under international law to investigate and prosecute the alleged crimes seriously and impartially once and for all.

The government of Sri Lanka lobbied fiercely against the UN resolution and says it was pushed by Western powers in a hypocritical move. Colombo says it is carrying out its own reconciliation programme in a way that best serves its own people.

We decided to sit down with Rauff Hakeem, the country’s justice minister, to find how that work is progressing.

He said: "The Human Rights Council does not appear to be looking at merits of an issue rather they are being guided by strategic alliances, and domestic concerns of individual member states .... There is a growing feeling that the Human Rights Council is being used as a political tool in order to apease certain segments in the council .... We have been prevented from verifying the sources from which they [The UN Council] had the advantage of knowing the details, so I would rather say that all those allegations [of war crimes] are covered in secrecy and it is very unfortunate that we cannot go into those sources .... Ours is a country which is not going to run away from our international obligations."

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