Sri Lanka’s government has launched a petition campaign against the UN making public an expert panel’s report on war crimes committed during the final months of the island’s war. The campaign, launched Thursday by Sri Lanka’s Minister of Private Transport Services, C. B. Ratnayaka, aims to collect one million signatures. It comes two days after President Mahinda Rajapaksa called for annual May Day rallies to be directed against the UN report. Also on Thursday, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister G.L. Peiris claimed releasing the report will damage the UN, while Mass Media minister Keheliya Rambukwella claimed the experts had written the report in just two weeks. The UN said earlier it will be releasing the much anticipated report on Friday.
The report on “issues of accountability” in relation to the final phase of Sri Lanka’s war was compiled by three prominent international law experts appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It accuses both Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-dominated government and the Tamil Tigers of atrocities.
Amongst other details, the report sets out evidence it had compiled that the government systematically attacked hospitals and other civilian targets, and may be responsible for tens of thousands of civilian deaths in the war’s final offensive in early 2009.
It also recommends the U.N. establish a special Commission of Inquiry to investigate the atrocities further.
Predictably, Sri Lanka, which denied the UN panel access to the island, has blasted their report as ‘flawed’ and ‘unsubstantiated’, and launched a concerted effort to prevent its publication.
The report was handed over Ban Ki-moon on April 12 and a copy was simultaneously given to Lankan diplomats in New York.
The Island newspaper, which is supporting the government, then began serializing the report on Saturday, alongside editorials denouncing it and its authors.
On Thursday Minister Ratnayaka launched the campaign to gather public signatures at Pettah bus station Thursday morning.
The petition is sponsored by the Jathika Hela Urumaya political party which is allied to President Rajapaksa and led by Sinhala nationalist Buddhist monks.
Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris meanwhile told reports that Colombo maintained the UN experts’ report was ‘fundamentally flawed,’ and had not been compiled by a properly constituted UN body.
He claimed the panel was appointed strictly to advise UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and therefore could not investigate or become a fact-finding body.
“So how can this panel transform itself into an investigative panel? They must confine themselves to the limit of their mandate,” Peiris was quoted by Reuters as telling reporters.
He added that Sri Lanka had strongly urged Ban not to formally publish the report.
“What we say to the UN system is to work together with us. We have been a member of the UN system from its inception and the UN should reach out to Sri Lanka and help it as it comes out of a dark period,” he added.