UN leader Ban Ki-moon has sent a report accusing Sri Lankan troops of killing tens of thousands of civilians to the UN Human Rights Council, bringing a potential international inquiry one step closer.
Ban has said that he alone cannot order an inquiry into the killings during a final offensive against Tamil separatists in 2009 — which the Sri Lankan government has strongly denied — but that a forum such as the Human Rights Council could do so.
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said the report had been sent to the Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on Monday.
A panel of experts named by Ban said in April that the Sri Lankan army killed most of the tens of thousands of civilian victims of a final offensive against Tamil separatists in 2009 but both sides may be guilty of war crimes.
The panel’s report — angrily opposed by the Sri Lankan government — painted a barbarous picture of the offensive on the Tamil enclave in the north of the island that ended a three-decade war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
“The Sri Lankan Government has been informed of the secretary general?s decision to share the report with the council and the high commissioner,” said Nesirky in a statement.
“While the secretary general had given time to the government of Sri Lanka to respond to the report, the government has declined to do so, and instead has produced its own reports on the situation in the north of Sri Lanka, which are being forwarded along with the panel of experts report.”
Nesirky told AFP that Ban had not made a recommendation calling for an international inquiry. “The secretary general is simply sending the report. Its for members to decide how to respond to it.”
Hospitals, UN centers and Red Cross ships were deliberately shelled by government forces, prisoners shot in the head and women raped during the 2009 offensive, the panel said. LTTE leaders used 330,000 civilians as a human shield and deliberately shot those who tried to escape.
“Tens of thousands lost their lives from January to May 2009, many of whom died anonymously in the carnage of the final few days,” said the three-member panel led by former Indonesian attorney general Marzuki Darsman.
“Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling,” the report added.
Sri Lanka has slammed the UN report as “biased” and launched a major international campaign against it. While the United States and other western nations have backed calls for an inquiry, diplomats said Sri Lanka would call on Asian allies such as China to help block any action at the rights council.
Sri Lanka complained about the move to send it to the rights council before Ban’s spokesman even made the official announcement.
Sri Lanka Minister of Plantation Industries Mahinda Samarasinghe claimed that at a briefing on Friday UN human rights chief Navi Pillay “had informed a group of countries that a decision had been taken by the office of the United Nations secretary general to transmit the report” to the Geneva-based rights council.
“The failure on the part of the High Commissioner to inform the concerned state — Sri Lanka — was wholly inappropriate to say the least,” the minister told the Human Rights Council.
The UN also said Thoraya Obaid, a former head of the UN Population Fund, would review the actions of the United Nations in Sri Lanka during the offensive after the panel also criticized UN decision-making