Sri Lanka’s proposed war crimes investigation has been delayed by several months until September as the government focuses on impending parliamentary elections, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said Wednesday.
Samaraweera said he hoped the composition of the investigating team along with its terms of reference would now be finalised just before the UN Human Rights Council’s session in September in Geneva.
“We are working out the contours of a domestic mechanism to look into human rights abuses and war crimes,” Samaraweera told reporters in Colombo. “This will be in place before the September sessions in Geneva.”
President Maithripala Sirisena came to power in January promising reconciliation and accountability following alleged atrocities during the island’s separatist war that ended in 2009.
But Samaraweera said the government’s schedule of reforms including starting the probe by June has been pushed back because of a delay in holding general elections.
Sirisena was due to sack the parliament he inherited from his autocratic predecessor Mahinda Rajapakse by April. He is now expected to dissolve parliament and call elections very shortly, Samaraweera said.
Sirisena is hoping to strengthen his numbers in parliament, where Rajapakse’s party and its allies still hold a majority, and bolster his mandate for democratic reforms.
“I hope the president will dissolve parliament in a matter of hours and we can have an early election,” Samaraweera said amid intense speculation the 225-member assembly could be dissolved at midnight.
The US led international pressure on former president Rajapakse to probe allegations that up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the military’s final push to end the war against ethnic minority Tamil rebels.
The UN has been investigating possible war crimes for more than a year and was due to unveil its report in March, but delayed the release to give Sri Lanka’s new government time to start its own probe.