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Radio Australia Audio & Transcript: UN panel on Sri Lanka civil war almost finalised

Jun 22, 2010 12:10:04 AM- transcurrents.com

The United Nations is this week expected to confirm a panel to investigate allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka. It's something international observers have long been calling for. However, the government says it has already appointed its own internal commission, and is describing this latest move from the U-N as an "unneccessary interferance".

Presenter: Helene Hofman
Speakers: Robert Templer, Asia Program Director, International Crisis Group; Mahinda Rajapaska, President, Sri Lanka; John Dowd, President, International Commission of Jurists Australia; Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives (Colombo)

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HOFMAN: It's not clear when exactly the United Nations will release the names of its panel to investigate allegations of human rights abuses committed during Sri Lanka's civil war.

Last week, the U-N's head of political affairs, Lynn Pascoe, ended a two-day visit to the island, by confirming that he was close to finalising the appointments.

He's now back in New York, and should make an announcement in the coming days.

The news has been welcomed by international observers and human rights activitists like Robert Templer, the Asia program director for the International Crisis Group.

TEMPLER: Well, it's a positive step but it falls short of a full international investigation. 'm hoping that it will take a very clear look at the Sri Lankan investigation and possibly suggest a full international investigation is needed. We believe it has a fairly reputable people on the panel, they are serious human rights scholars and lawyers, they're not people who are going to be bullied in any way by the Sri Lankan authorities.

Already it's expected the panel will face an uphill battle.

The Sri Lankan government has openly opposed the inquiry since it was first mooted in the closing stages of the conflict last year.

It has appointed its own Internal Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation, which the U-N panel hopes to liaise with and monitor.

However, speaking to the Al Jazeera news service in May, the president Mahinda Rajapaska said he was not interested in co-operating.

RAJAPASKA: This is an internal matter. I don't want my internal matter to be inquired by any other country or any other NGO. So we will look after that. That's why we appointed the commission, so that if there are any violations we will see. If it is a crime, whether it is my relation or my army commander or anybody is immaterial, it is a crime. Crime is crime so we have to punish them.

HOFMAN: The U-N says finding of it's own panel will be passed on to the U-N Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon.

However, while he can use the information to advise on reconciliation, only the U-N Security Council could call for a war crimes tribunal.

The U-N is still hopeful Sri Lanka will decide to co-operate, but the president of the International Commission of Jurists Australia, John Dowd, says the panel doesn't need the support of the Sri Lankan government.

The International Commission of Jurists has itself begun collecting evidence to be used in the event of a war crimes tribunal.

DOWD: there are witnesses in Australia and other countries that can give direct evidence of war crimes so it doesn't matter what the Sri Lanakan government says. an international tribunal can look at what evidence they're prepared to disclose and an objective test will work out which evidence can be believed and which cannot.

HOFMAN: Within Sri Lanka, concerns have been raised that the Sri Lankan's reluctance to co-operate with the U-N could strain international relations.

Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu is the Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives in the capital Colombo.

SARAVANAMUTTU: Unfortunately the Sri Lankan made too much out of its resistance to the panel and too much out of denouncing it and as a result I think its got much much more prominence. You know there's nothing that they can do to stop the panel being set up but one hopes that once the panel is set up one hopes that relations wouldn't be terribly scarred and soured.