/ 7 September 2011

Amnesty seeks UN probe on Sri Lanka war crimes

At least 10 000 civilians were killed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war but a national inquiry has failed so far to investigate war crimes committed by both the army and Tamil rebels, Amnesty International charged on Wednesday.

In an extensive report running to almost 70 pages, the London-based human rights group called on the United Nations to establish a credible international investigation into the slaughter in 2009 that ended the quarter-century conflict.

Although the national commission set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in May 2010 has heard evidence of serious violations — including what Amnesty called proof of the army shelling civilian areas and the use of human shields by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — the official inquiry has failed to recommend any prosecutions, it said.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission is due to present its report to the Colombo government in mid-November. Amnesty and other rights groups rejected an invitation to present evidence, saying the inquiry would not be credible.

“Amnesty International urges the international community not to be deceived that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission — the latest in a long line of failed domestic mechanisms in Sri Lanka — will deliver justice, truth and reparations to the tens of thousands of victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes committed during the conflict by both sides, particularly during its last bloody few months,” the report said.

Government shelling
It accused government forces of large-scale shelling of no-fire-zones where it had encouraged the civilian population in the north-east to concentrate.

“Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling,” the Amnesty report said.

The government silenced the media and other critics of the war and rounded up opponents including through “the use of white vans to abduct and to make people disappear”, Amnesty said.

Sri Lanka’s foreign minister GL Peiris is on a mission to shore up diplomatic support ahead of a three-week session of the UN Human Rights Council opening on Monday where the Indian Ocean nation is expecting to face a fight over Western-led pressure for a war crimes probe.

The government rejects the death tolls as vastly inflated by pro-Tiger groups and mathematically impossible given the number of refugees accounted for after the war against even the highest reported tally of civilians in the conflict zone at the war’s end. It says it was difficult to distinguish between civilians and combatants, given that Tiger fighters routinely blended into the population. – Reuters