A UN panel is set to monitor how Sri Lanka responds to
allegations of violating human rights during the end of its civil
war with the Tamil Tigers. But Sri Lanka has resisted this and other
outside attempts at accountability.
One year after Sri Lanka's decisive victory over Tamil
insurgents, controversy still swirls over the bloody end to the 26-
year civil war.
Sri Lankan officials argue that they defeated an outlawed
terrorist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which
had refused to make peace. They insist that their military strategy
was legitimate and had popular support. Political leaders have drawn
parallels to America's wartime actions and asked why nobody calls
Western powers to account for civilian suffering.
Critics say both parties to the conflict violated international
humanitarian laws and terrorized trapped civilians. Human rights
groups have called for an international inquiry into the war's final
stages, when tens of thousands of civilians may have died during
repeated shelling by government forces of designated no-fire zones.
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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has waded into the
debate by setting up a panel of experts to advise him on Sri Lanka's
progress on accountability on human rights issues. The panel's
members have not been appointed, but the idea has met strong
resistance from Sri Lanka. It fears a repeat of the Goldstone
inquiry into the 2008 Gaza conflict - which accused Israel and Hamas
of committing war crimes - and being subjected to a tribunal.
Sri Lanka fights back with own report
In an attempt to stall such efforts, Sri Lanka's President
Mahinda Rajapaksa recently named his own commission of inquiry into
the conflict between 2002 and 2009. A former chief justice will head
the "Lessons Learnt Truth and Reconciliation Commission," which has
yet to begin its work. 2002 was the year of a Norwegian-brokered
ceasefire and the start of peace talks with the LTTE.
This approach got a diplomatic boost late last month when US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave it her public support after
meeting Sri Lanka's visiting foreign minister. In a statement, Ms.
Clinton said the commission "held promise" and that she expected it
would "fully investigate serious allegations of violation." She
added that the Sri Lankan panel should be "independent, impartial
Human rights groups point out that previous inquiries into
wartime abuses, including abductions by paramilitaries and related
violence, failed to lead to any prosecutions and that their findings
were often suppressed by authorities.
"There's no precedent for a productive investigative commission
in Sri Lanka and lots of precedents for failed commissions and
failed inquiries," says Alan Keenan, an analyst for the
International Crisis Group in London and coauthor of a recent report
into the final months of the conflict. …