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NGOs welcome U.S. stand to take Sri Lanka to task at UNHRC meet

Washington, D.C., United States (AHN) – The global human rights community on Friday welcomed the U.S. call for action to bring to book those responsible for crimes against humanity committed in the final months of the war in Sri Lanka.

Concluding a three-day trip to the island nation, U.S. Under Secretary of State Maria Otero confirmed at a press conference in Colombo that the U.S. will “support a resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council in March that provides an opportunity for the government of Sri Lanka to describe what it intends to do to implement the (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) LLRC’s recommendations, and advanced reconciliation as well as addressed accountability, human rights and democracy concerns.”

Otero said, “An agreement between the government and the Tamil National Alliance, the TNA, on a lasting political settlement is also critical, and we urge both sides to approach negotiations in a spirit of trust, empathy and good faith to reach a political solution that is in the best interests of all Sri Lankan citizens.”

Noting that the LLRC findings had “shortcomings on accountability,” Otero highlighted “substantive recommendations on reconciliation, devolution of authority, demilitarization, rule of law, media freedom, disappearances and human rights violations and abuses.”

The U.S. diplomat cautioned Colombo, “It is our sincere hope that the government and people of Sri Lanka will seize this opportunity to build a democratic, tolerant society that will lead to lasting peace and prosperity that leads to a future of hope and dignity for all.”

Some 14 top human rights organization welcomed the U.S. call to action. In a joint statement, they said “We are pleased to hear that the United States has decided to press for action at the March session of the Human Rights Council on accountability for wartime abuses in Sri Lanka.”

“Now is the time for the HRC to demonstrate its commitment to justice for victims and their families by taking effective action toward establishing an independent international accountability mechanism,” urged the statement.

Citing the issue as a “high priority” for the signatory organizations, the statement noted “the massive scale of abuses committed in the final months of the war and the Sri Lankan government’s resistance to any serious domestic inquiry.”

“The UN Panel and international organizations have rejected a domestic mechanism, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), as inadequate and lacking the independence necessary to conduct an impartial and effective investigation of these abuses,” emphasized the statement.

The statement also highlighted the fact that “In September, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referred to the President of the HRC and the High Commissioner the report of his Panel of Experts, which finds considerable evidence of war crimes and other abuses committed by both sides during the Sri Lankan civil war.”

The report noted “up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the final five months of the war, mainly due to indiscriminate shelling of civilian-populated areas, including hospitals and food distribution centers.”

With Washington declaring its intentions to press ahead with its tough stand at the upcoming United Nations human rights council meeting in Geneva, there are hardly many options left for Colombo but to account for the situation that arose due to the intense battle between government military and separatist Tamil Tigers leading to the total defeat of the separatist movement in May 2009.

The statement from human rights organizations is endorsed by the following:

    Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA
    Karin D. Ryan, Director, Human Rights Program, The Carter Center
    Don Kraus, Chief Executive Officer, Citizens for Global Solutions
    Allison Garland, Project Coordinator, Democracy Coalition Project
    John C. Bradshaw, Executive Director, Enough Project
    Norma R. Gattsek, Government Relations Director, Feminist Majority Foundation
    Paula Schriefer, Vice President for Global Programs, Freedom House
    Tom Malinowski, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch
    E. Robert Goodkind, Chair, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
    Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President, Leadership Council for Human Rights
    Jerry Fowler, Senior Policy Analyst, Open Society Foundations
    Hans Hogrefe, Washington Director, Physicians for Human Rights
    Bama Athreya, Executive Director, United to End Genocide
    Aung Din, Executive Director, U.S. Campaign for Burma
Tejinder Singh – AHN News Correspondent

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