By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - Victims and activists welcomed a U.N. call on Wednesday for Sri Lankan state forces and Tamil Tigers to face prosecution for alleged war crimes, including mass killings of civilians, by a special court with international judges.
Despite pledges by the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena to pursue perpetrators, the criminal justice system was not up to the huge task alone, said the report by the United Nations human rights office.
The report named no suspects in the 26-year war that ended in 2009, saying that individual prosecutions should be left for the new court.
"We hope ... that the security services will understand there must be a sort of reckoning with the past and there must be accountability," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al-Hussein told reporters.
The "organization and planning" was apparent in many of the crimes documented in the report, Zeid said without elaboration.
The U.N. report, delayed from March to give the new government time to address concerns, found "patterns of grave violations" between 2002 and 2011. It said it was likely that "tens of thousands lost their lives" in the final stages of the war.
It said Sri Lanka should set up a "hybrid special court integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators" to try war crimes and crimes against humanity, "most likely" committed by both the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Sandya Eknaligoda, wife of Sri Lankan journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda who disappeared near Colombo in January 2010, was among victims' families who came to Geneva to lobby for support for justice.
"I am very certain it was the (President Mahinda) Rajapaksa government that made him disappear. It is clear from information unearthed more recently that it was the army that took him," she told Reuters. "I can't trust the domestic system so an international investigation is very important."
Eknaligoda is among the "emblematic cases" in the U.N. report which said several military personnel had been arrested last month in connection with his disappearance.
There was no immediate comment by Mahinda Rajapaksa, who crushed the Tamil insurgency, or his brother, former defense minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The nearly 300-page report quotes the latter as saying in a 2009 television interview that the PTK hospital, one of the most heavily-hit medical facilities in the north just outside the "No Fire Zone", was a "legitimate target".
"DENIALS AND COVER-UPS"
The inquiry documented "the years of denials and cover-ups", Zeid said.
Sri Lanka promised on Wednesday to deliver justice after the U.N. report was issued, but stopped short of directly addressing the U.N.'s proposal to set up a special court.
On the northern Jaffna peninsula, where government forces staged their final assault against Tamil Tiger rebels, those who lost loved ones had little faith in the government’s promises.
"I am not sure if we will see justice," said T. Dushiyanthan, whose two sisters-in-law disappeared after they came by army bus to a no-fire zone in the last days of the war.
"The government might punish two or three top military commanders who are not in their good books," the teacher said. "I have no confidence in this process."
Fred Carver, Campaign Director for the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, said that the report left no doubt that "many of the tens of thousands of civilians who died in the early months of 2009 were murdered by their own government".
Tamil Tigers also committed atrocities, he said, noting that "very few members of the LTTE’s senior leadership survive".
(Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; additional reporting by Shihar Aneez in Colombo and N. Parameswaran in Jaffna; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Dominic Evans)