US prepares for bitter showdown with Sri Lanka over war crimes


Britain and the US are preparing for a bitter showdown with Sri Lanka as they attempt to pass an international resolution rebuking Colombo over alleged war crimes said to have been committed

Eileen Donahoe, the US ambassador to the UNHRC in Geneva

during military operations against ethnic rebels.

A resolution calling upon Sri Lanka to investigate fully who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Tamil civilians and to establish genuine reconciliation is to be tabled during a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which opens tomorrow. At the same time, Sri Lanka is assiduously working to block any such measure.

“Many thousands of Sri Lankan civilians died or suffered other violations in the final weeks of the long-running civil war in 2009. There has been no complete accounting of those deaths,” Eileen Donahoe, the US ambassador to the UNHRC in Geneva, said in a statement last week. “We believe that real reconciliation must be based on accountability, not impunity.”

The move to pass the resolution follows the findings of a UN-appointed panel which said last year that there were “credible allegations” that both sides – the Sri Lankan army and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – were responsible for war crimes in the final stages of conflict. The panel suggested that tens of thousands of civilians lost their lives in the last weeks of combat, with Sri Lankan troops firing into a supposed “no-fire zone”.

While Sri Lanka rejected the report, it constituted its own internal investigation, the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). This report – which found that the armed forces had not acted inappropriately – was rejected by the UN.

The US, which has welcomed some of the LLRC’s recommendations, says it fails to deal with the issue of accountability. “There cannot be impunity for large-scale civilian casualties; and if there is to be real reconciliation, it must be based on an accounting of the truth and serious implementation of changes,” said Ms Donahoe.

Sri Lanka has dismissed the US claims and a large team of officials is lobbying countries to oppose any resolution, saying such a move would damage reconciliation efforts. A government spokesman, Susil Premajayantha, said: “We will organise demonstrations to show that the people of this country are with the government. They are against the Western forces. We have lobbied member countries [of the UNHRC] and the feedback that we have is very positive.”

An attempt to pass a resolution against Sri Lanka in 2009 failed, largely because of the decision by India, Pakistan and other nations to adopt a different document that praised Colombo for its treatment of refugees.

Western diplomats in South Asia and Geneva said the wording of the resolution was still being worked out but that it is likely to be modest. “No one wants to see the resolution defeated,” said one Western diplomat, who asked not be identified.

Fred Carver of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice said: “If successful, this motion will show that the opinion of the world has shifted and that the Sri Lankan government can no longer turn a blind eye to war crimes without becoming a pariah.”

Sri Lanka insists a number of recommendations made by the LLRC have already been put in place. Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, an MP, said he had recommended the establishment of a ministry dedicated to reconciliation. He added: “Unfortunately, we are hopeless about letting the world know what we are doing.”

The independent

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