No War Crimes Probe for Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka escapes Western efforts to press war crime charges against the government over the civilian toll in its war with the Tamil Tigers.
A United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution issued late on Wednesday, condemned the Tamil Tigers by hailing “the liberation by the government of Sri Lanka of tens of thousands of its citizens” kept by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as hostages.
This is while U.N. Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay claims there was credible evidence on gross violation of international humanitarian laws by both Sri Lankan forces and the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The resolution came while regional Asian powers — China, India and Pakistan — threw their weight behind Sri Lanka’s clampdown on the Tigers at the Geneva meeting.
“This is a strong endorsement of our president’s efforts to rout terrorism, and the successful handling of the world’s biggest hostage crisis,” said Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, referring to governments allegations that the Tigers held tens of thousands of Tamil civilians as human shields.
“This is a clear message that the international community is behind Sri Lanka,” he added.
The government came under attack and was accused of subjecting rebel-held areas densely packed with civilians to indiscriminate bombardment while U.N. estimates more than 7,000 civilians were killed in the first four months of this year alone.
On May 19, Sri Lanka declared a final victory over the LTTE to put an end to their 26 years of armed struggle seeking a homeland for the Tamil ethnic minority.
While the army and state-run newspapers continue to celebrate its victory on the battlefield, the government is celebrating what it sees as its triumph on the diplomatic front.
It managed to head off attempts by Western countries during a special session of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in Geneva for an inquiry into human rights abuses committed by both sides.
The council session, called because of concerns over the high number of civilian casualties in the fighting and the plight of thousands of displaced Tamil people, ended late on Wednesday with a resolution praising the outcome of the war….
The final resolution, passed by 29 votes to 12 with six abstentions, welcomed what it called Sri Lanka’s continued commitment to the protection of human rights.
It also urged the international community to provide financial assistance towards Sri Lanka’s reconstruction.
It said that U.N. aid agencies wanting full access to the 300,000 displaced people in army-run camps should only receive this “as may be appropriate” and that the war was a “domestic” matter.
Human rights groups said it was another sign that the council – supposed to be the world’s top human rights watchdog – is now so politicised that it is virtually meaningless.
The military has so far refused to release refugees from the camps, saying they must be screened to weed out any Tamil Tiger rebels who may be hiding among them.
Juliette de Rivero, advocacy director in the Geneva office of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said: “This is a step backwards for the human rights council. The resolution fails to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable.”
European nations, supported by Canada, Mexico and Chile, called unsuccessfully for an independent investigation of alleged war crimes by both sides, an end to impunity, and unhindered access for aid workers to the more than 300,000 displaced.
Aid agencies complain that their movements continue to be restricted. Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said yesterday that the humanitarian agency was still barred from visiting certain camps holding displaced people, including some interned for security reasons. He did not give details.
On Tuesday Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the human rights council “an independent and credible international investigation” was needed to establish the facts following allegations of war crimes committed by both sides. Ensuring accountability for abuses committed in the recent fighting was important for national reconciliation, she said.
Thousands of people were killed and injured in the final weeks of the conflict as the Tamil Tigers prevented civilians from leaving the war zone and government forces allegedly continued to shell the area, a claim the government denies.
U.N. human rights investigators also said they continued to receive “disturbing reports of torture, extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances” in Sri Lanka.
The 30-year civil war that ended bloodily a week ago may have killed between 80,000 and 100,000 people, the U.N. estimates. The Sri Lankan military said it lost 6,200 troops and killed 22,000 Tigers in the nearly three years of the war’s final phase.
- 25,000-30,000 Civilians Maimed in Final Days of Sri Lanka War (25 May 09)
- Lies, Deceptions Hallmark of Sri Lanka War (18 May 09)
- Sri Lanka: Military Conflict vs. Propaganda War? (16 May 09)
- Doctor Reports 378 Dead in Sri Lanka (10 May 09)
- Sri Lanka: Repeated Shelling of Hospitals Evidence of War Crimes (8 May 09)