(Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s new government won a six-month delay on Monday in the publication of a report on alleged war crimes, after the U.N. human rights chief praised its willingness to open the country up to scrutiny.
Sri Lankan government forces have been accused of widespread human rights violations in the final stages of the civil war that ended in May 2009, including most of about 40,000 killings of Tamil civilians in the final weeks of the conflict.
The U.N. Human Rights Council voted last March to investigate war crimes in Sri Lanka, saying then President Mahinda Rajapaksa had failed to do so properly. The U.N. inquiry, advised by three experts led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, was due to report back next month.
U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said he had recommended deferral of the team’s report until September, and the president of the Human Rights Council had agreed, given “the changing context in Sri Lanka, and the possibility that important new information may emerge which will strengthen the report.”
The new government had given clear commitments indicating it was prepared to cooperate “on a whole range of important human rights issues – which the previous government had absolutely refused to do – and I need to engage with them to ensure those commitments translate into reality.”
“I am acutely aware that many victims … might see this is as the first step towards shelving, or diluting, a report they have long feared they would never see,” he said.
A senior official of the U.S. State Department welcomed the move and pledges made by the Sri Lankan government.
The official, who did not want to be identified by name, said the United States was “encouraged that a way forward has been agreed upon that satisfies the concerns of all parties” and the delay would “allow space for the new government to demonstrate their willingness to cooperate on human rights issues”.
A Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry official welcomed the deferral.
“This is timely and coincide with the new government’s move to establish democratic process for accountability issues,” the official said. “This will give space for the domestic investigation process.”
Sri Lanka had said it needed the delay to give it time to establish a new judicial mechanism to deal with the allegations.
In a letter to Zeid seen by Reuters on Monday, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera set out reforms the government planned to implement within 100 days, including ensuring justice for war crimes.
Samaraweera said he had invited Zeid to Sri Lanka, and all media restrictions and blocks on news websites had been lifted.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; additional reporting by Shihar Aneez in Colombo and D
Overseas Tamil groups oppose move to delay Geneva report on SL… endorse Wigneswaran’s call for genocide probe
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Sri Lanka’s efforts to delay the presentation of a controversial report on accountability issues have suffered a serious setback with 16 Tamil groups based in Europe, America, Australia and South Africa demanding that the on-going external investigative process should go ahead as scheduled regardless of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat at Jan. 2015 poll.
They want the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to present the report at the next Geneva session in March, 2015 as his predecessor Navaneetham Pillay promised in June last year.
President of US Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC) Dr. Karunyan Arulanantham, in a letter dated Feb 14, 2015, addressed to Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has emphasized that the on-going process shouldn’t be halted merely on the basis of President Maithripala Sirisena’s assurance to conduct an impartial and transparent domestic investigative process. Arulanantham declared that Tamils had no faith in Sri Lankan institutions.
The USTPAC is engaged in discussions with the State Department.
“While President Sirisena’s election was a step toward democracy and he has made some initial strides in this area, the fact that he was the acting Defence Minister during a portion of the period in which the atrocities were committed leaves the victims with no hope or trust on any domestic mechanism to seek accountability and justice,” Arulanatham said in his missive.
A change in the process at Sri Lanka’s request would be a major blow to justice and accountability, and would bring into question the neutrality of the UN, Diaspora Tamils warned.
According to Arulanantham, 15 other organizations, including the UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF) have endorsed his plea. Arulanantham declared that they represented over one million Tamils living out of Sri Lanka.
Tamil groups said that they were responding to President Sirisena’s foreign affairs advisor Jayantha Dhanapala and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera urging the international community to delay the report. Sri Lanka appealed to Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein as well as the US government which moved the resolution 25/1 last March to pave the way for an international investigation.
Diplomatic sources told The Island that Tamil groups had been canvassing foreign political parties with the UK being the focal point. May general election in UK would give Tamil political activists an opportunity to exploit the situation to their advantage.
Referring to Northern Provincial Council (NPC) resolution moved by its Chief Minister retired Supreme Court judge C.V. Wigneswaran on Feb. 10, 2015 calling for UN probe on genocide of Tamils since 1948 by both UNP and SLFP-led governments, Arulanantham said that the Tamil coalition fully endorsed the NPC’s call. The Tamil coalition threw its weight behind CM Wigneswaran in calling for the timely release of the war crimes report and further UN mandated actions, including referral to the ICC.
The coalition told UN rights chief that peaceful transition of power consequent to Jan 8, 2015 presidential poll hadn’t changed the need for UN-led accountability process. The coalition insisted accountability process for what it called as mass atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan military during Jan-May offensive on the Vanni east front.
The coalition warned that the failure on the part of the UNHRC to go ahead with the investigation would set what the Tamil coalition called a terrible precedent for the United Nations.
Commenting on a comprehensive study that dealt with UN operations in Sri Lanka during the conflict, the Tamil coalition pointed out that Tamils had to suffer terrible losses due to failures on the part of the UN. However, since the release of the UN study the global body had taken remedial measures, the coalition said, adding that a postponement of the report would be a treacherous step backwards for the organization.
While appreciating the appointment of one-time Foreign Secretary H.M.G.S. Palihakkara as the Governor of the Northern Province, in place of Maj.Gen. (retd.) G. A. Chandrasiri requesting exiled journalists and other activists to return as well as promising to resettle the displaced, the Tamil coalition demanded further drop in military presence in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The grouping said: “Tamils still await the demilitarization of the North and East, the return of Tamil land acquired by the government, constitutional protections for Tamil language and culture in their traditional homeland in the North and East, empowering of the Tamil provincial bodies to serve its people without barriers from the Colombo government, and, most vitally, the attainment of a fair political settlement.
The grouping also urged the international community to commend President Sirisena for steps taken to improve the situation since the conclusion of the conflict, while emphasizing the need to address accountability issues during the conflict as well as on-going abuses. Tamil Diaspora groups want the international community to establish what they called assertive and credible benchmarks for domestic investigative process and provide assistance and oversight to ensure these benchmarks were met.
The following groups endorsed the petition, in addition to US Tamil Political Action Council: 1) Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) Reginald Jeganathan, Chairman 2) British Tamil Conservatives (BTC) Dr. Arjuna Sivanathan, President 3) British Tamil Forum (BTF) V. Ravi Kumar, General Secretary 4) Centre for War Victims and Human Rights (Canada) Anton Philip, Chairman 5) Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (USA) Naanjil Peter, President 6) Global Tamil Forum (GTF) Dr. Rev. S.J. Emmanuel, President 7) Ilankai Tamil Sangam (ITS, USA) Dr. Rajaram Kandasamy, President 8) New Zealand Tamil Society (NZTS) Dr. Siva Vasanthan, President 9) People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (USA) Tasha Manoranjan, JD, Executive Director 10) South African Tamil Federation Karthigasen Moothsamy, President 11) Swedish Tamil Forum (STF) G. Jeganmohan, President 12) Tamils Against Genocide (TAG, UK/USA) Janani Jananayagam, Director 13) Tamils For Labour (United Kingdom) Sen Kandiah, Chairman 14) United States Tamil Political Action Council Dr. Karunyan Arulanantham, President 15) World Thamil Organization (WTO, USA) Thillai Kumaran, President.