By BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI
An international rights group on Tuesday called Sri Lanka’s report on its 26-year civil war an attempt to whitewash growing evidence of alleged government atrocities.
Two years after the conflict ended, Sri Lanka conceded for the first time this week that troops caused civilian deaths in the last months of fighting against Tamil Tiger rebels. But its war report takes no responsibility for those deaths or for any alleged violations of the rules of war, New York-based Human Rights Watch said.
“This is just the latest and glossiest effort to whitewash mounting evidence of government atrocities during the fighting,” the group’s Asia director, Brad Adams, said in a statement.
Sri Lanka has been under increasing international pressure to allow for an independent investigation into alleged human rights violations by both troops and rebels, which a U.N. experts panel said could amount to war crimes.
The 161-page report released Monday by the Sri Lankan Defense Ministry reverses two years of government insistence that its troops adhered to a “zero civilian casualty policy.”
However, it denies allegations that troops committed rights violations and executed prisoners, and says the civilian deaths were unavoidable given the magnitude of the fighting and ruthlessness of the opponent.
It does not say how many civilians may have been killed, though the U.N. panel has said tens of thousand perished in just the last months of the war.
The report says the government was forced to go to war after unsuccessful attempts to broker peace with the independence-seeking rebels, and that its military operation followed international laws while accusing the rebels of abuses including using civilians as human shields and conscripting child soldiers.
Human Rights Watch urged international governments to reject the “factually challenged report” and renew calls for government accountability, saying alleged rebel abuses did not justify violations by government security forces.
The government’s report “is yet another feeble attempt to convince the world, despite growing evidence to the contrary, that government forces committed no crimes.”
The troops are alleged to have deliberately shelled civilians in a no-fire zone, targeted hospitals and blocked food and medical aid, according to the U.N. panel.
Footage allegedly taken by front-line soldiers and aired on Britain’s Channel 4 television appears to show blindfolded prisoners being shot at close range and the naked bodies of women being loaded into a tractor trailer.
Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on Monday accused Channel 4 of “promoting baseless accusations whose sole purpose is to discredit Sri Lanka.”
Hundreds of government supporters, including state-run media journalists, protested Tuesday in Colombo against the UK channel with placards reading “Stop Channel 4 dirty media tricks” and “Channel 4 — Enough is enough.”