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Sri Lanka: Amnesty report premature or overdue?


A new report by Amnesty International released today accuses the Sri Lankan government of covering up war crimes, committed by its military, at the end of the country’s civil conflict in 2009. But why is it publishing now?

By Richard Walker
The document adds to the already sizeable body of criticism levelled at President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), established in May 2010. In no way, says Amnesty, does the Commission represent a credible investigation.

“The Sri Lankan government has, for almost two years, used the LLRC as its trump card in lobbying against an independent international investigation. Officials described it as a credible accountability mechanism, able to deliver justice and promote reconciliation. In reality it’s flawed at every level: in mandate, composition and practice,” writes Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director, Sam Zarifi.

The report comes at a time of increasing pressure on Colombo – a UN investigative team recommended a full investigation into the actions of military leaders on both sides of the conflict after it visited the country earlier this year. Added to this is credible evidence, revealed by international media, of serious human rights abuses ranging from the shelling of civilian hospitals to the systematic rape and execution of prisoners of war.
Shot in the dark

Amnesty is critical of the LLRC at every level, not least of the Commission’s 2010 interim report for not containing any recommendations on addressing human rights abuses.

However, the LLRC’s stated purpose is to compile a final report detailing the thousands of testimonies it claims to have gathered, and publish it in November.

“We feel it is premature to critique a report that has still not been written”, said the spokesman for the LLRC, Lakshman Wickremasinghe.

When asked why Amnesty had launched its attack now and not after the LLRC had produced its final report spokesman Yolanda Foster said: “We’re publishing this report now as a wake up call to UN member states that they must act on the … credible evidence of very serious crimes that happened at the end of the war and (the UN) recommended an independent international investigation”.

Rising shun

Sri Lanka’s LLRC points out it has tried to engage with Amnesty on the issue of its inquiry: “We invited Amnesty to come and see our work when the Commission was established but we regret they did not deem it important to attend… so it’s not our business to respond to any Amnesty report at this stage”, said LLRC spokesman Lakshman Wickremasinghe.

Amnesty’s response is that it pointed out key failures of the Commission’s structure a year ago but got no response from Colombo so decided to refuse an invitation to testify. It seems Amnesty is no mood for any form of reconciliation now: The international community “should not be deceived by the LLRC as a genuine accountability mechanism, it has been set up by the government to buy time in order to contain international pressure for real accountability for what happened in the final months of the war”, said AI’s Yolanda Foster.
RNW’s International Justice Desk will next week be following the Netherlands’ first trial of alleged Tamil Tiger activists accused of raising funds for terror
Click here for RNW’s Sri Lanka dossier containing recent stories on post war Sri Lanka and Tamil Tiger LTTE


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