The failure of a national accountability commission into human rights abuses in the last days of the civil war could add to calls for an international inquiry, a top US diplomat warned on 14 September in Sri Lanka.
“If it [a national inquiry] is not a credible process, there will be pressure for some sort of alternate mechanism,” Robert Blake, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, said at the conclusion of a three-day visit to the island nation.
Blake, who met President Mahinda Rajapaksa and ministers, noted, however, that Washington would wait for the release of the final report of the government’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), appointed by the president in May 2010 to investigate the final days of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), before passing judgment. The report is due in November.
According to a UN panel report, released in April, both government forces and the separatist LTTE conducted military operations with flagrant disregard for the protection, rights, welfare and lives of civilians and international law during the final months of the war.
Tens of thousands died between January and May 2009, many anonymously, the 196-page report said.
“There needs to be a full credible, independent accounting and accountability of all those individuals who violated international humanitarian law,” Blake said.
Earlier, US diplomats said the failure of a national inquiry would increase pressure for an international inquiry that Sri Lanka has so far resisted.
“The LLRC is inquiring into the conflict and its causes and is evolving recommendations to ensure that such a situation never arises again in Sri Lanka. It is critical to wait for that body to finish its deliberations and come up with its conclusions,” Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, head of the Sri Lanka delegation, told the 18th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 12 September.
Just two days before Blake’s announcement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced he would be forwarding an Advisory Panel report on Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council, a move strongly criticized by Sri Lanka, which said it was only told on 9 September.
“The failure on the part of the High Commissioner to inform the concerned state – Sri Lanka – was wholly inappropriate to say the very least. This, regrettably, may lead to a loss of confidence in the Office of the High Commissioner,” Samarasinghe told the Council on 12 September.
Samarasinghe questioned the impartiality of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. “Today it may be Sri Lanka, but tomorrow it could be any other member state faced with this predicament,” he said.
Local rights activists say that despite the government’s identification of the LLRC as the main mechanism for accountability, many of its interim recommendations had yet to be implemented.
“Significant is that exactly a year after the LLRC made some interim recommendations, they have not been implemented by the government, despite attempts to indicate otherwise by Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe,” Ruki Fernando, head of the Human Rights in Conflict Programme at the Law and Society Trust, told IRIN.
Moreover, Fernando pointed out that many of the witnesses giving evidence at the LLRC spoke of the same allegations contained in the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Panel report.
“Many of the testimonies put forward to the LLRC are similar to the allegations contained in the UNSG’s panel of experts report.”
In April, Ban said he would welcome a mandate from the Human Rights Council, the Security Council or the General Assembly to establish an international inquiry into allegations of possible war crimes.