Sri Lankan president promises impartial war crimes investigation

By Shihar Aneez

COLOMBO, Feb 4 : Sri Lanka’s president said today he would abide by a UN resolution calling for a credible war crimes tribunal to investigate allegations of atrocities in the country’s war against Tamil separatists.

However, Maithripala Sirisena did not explicitly agree that foreign judges and prosecutors could take part in such an investigation. Last month, he stoked concern by saying foreign participation wasn’t needed for an impartial inquiry, as a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution specified.

“By implementing the resolution, we will ensure freedom, democracy, and national unity,” Sirisena said in an address to the nation on its 68th anniversary of independence.

The UN said in September that both Sri Lanka’s military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam “most likely” committed war crimes, including mass killings of civilians, during the 26-year war, which ended in 2009. Such crimes should be prosecuted by a special court with international judges, the UN said.

Sri Lanka’s previous government, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, rejected international pressure for a UN war crimes investigation, and major political parties remain opposed to any external involvement in the investigation.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is due to hold talks with Sirisena on the implementation of the UN resolution during a four-day visit beginning on Saturday. Zeid will also discuss ways to strengthen the rule of law and protection of human rights, his spokesman said.

A Western diplomat welcomed Sirisena’s assurance to carry out the investigation, but said his stance on inclusion of foreign judges, considered key to the credibility of the investigation, was still not clear.

John Fisher, Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, said the presence of foreign judges in Sri Lanka’s probe is a key component of the UN resolution and necessary to create trust.

“The recent comments by the president have created quite justifiable concern lest it become one more in a series of failed mechanisms. It falls at a juncture when reassurance of the government to abide by its commitment is needed and timely,” he said.


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