UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is studying an expert report into thousands of deaths during Sri Lanka’s 2009 military drive against Tamil rebels, as calls grow for an international probe.
Ban has given himself just days to decide on recommendations made by a panel of experts which handed its report on alleged war crimes to the UN leader on Tuesday.
A copy was sent to the Sri Lankan government which immediately rejected the document as “flawed” and “biased.”
The United Nations said the report will be published and, according to diplomats, major behind-the-scenes lobbying has begun over what steps might then be taken.
According to UN estimates, at least 7,000 civilians died in the final push by government troops against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who were defeated in May 2009.
Human Rights Watch has estimated that tens of thousands were killed or injured and Amnesty International put the toll at more than 10,000.
Sri Lanka, which denied any war crimes took place, had rejected the formation of the expert panel as interference in its internal affairs.
It also refused to let its three members — led by former Indonesian attorney general Marzuki Darusman — into the country.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Ban would study the report and “will determine his next steps in the coming days.”
Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry issued a statement Wednesday saying the panel’s findings were “fundamentally flawed” in many respects.
“Among other deficiencies, the report is based on patently biased material which is presented without verification,” it said, without providing details of the actual contents.
Sri Lanka has rejected all calls for a war crimes investigation — internal or external.
However one Asian ambassador to the UN, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “There is pressure for a bigger inquiry into the Sri Lanka events. It would be surprising if the UN panel did not urge this.”
International human rights watchdogs renewed their calls for an independent international probe.
“Ban Ki-moon said that ‘accountability is an essential foundation for durable peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka,'” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director.
“He must stick to his word — accounting for violations committed in the recent conflict is the first step to future reconciliation.”
“The lack of a single known criminal investigation of any of the numerous serious war crimes allegations in two years speaks for itself,” commented Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
“The government has demonstrated that accountability and justice in Sri Lanka will only come about through international action.”
The United States said last week that future cooperation with Sri Lanka depended on human rights improvements and an accounting of the bloodshed.
The US State Department’s latest international human rights report, released last week, said there were still “serious human rights problems” in Sri Lanka.
“Security forces committed arbitrary and unlawful killings, although the number of extrajudicial killings declined. Disappearances continued to be a problem, although the total also declined,” said the report.