Sri Lanka's war commission defends integrity

AP News
Posted: Oct 15, 2010 10:24 AM
Sri Lanka's war commission defends integrity

A government-appointed commission inquiring into Sri Lanka's civil war criticized leading human rights groups Friday for declining its invitations to testify.

Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group and Amnesty International wrote to Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission on Thursday to say they would not testify.

The groups contend the commission would not operate independently because its members were appointed by the government; moreover, the body had no real mandate to probe alleged war crimes reported in the last stages of the war.

The secretary of the commission, A.B. Atugoda, responded that the commission's independence and impartiality "must be judged by the performance of the commission and not on the basis of preconceived notions."

Sri Lankan forces crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009, ending their quarter-century campaign for an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils.

But human rights groups say there were very high civilian casualties and accused both sides of violating basic human rights as the war ended. According to the United Nations, more than 7,000 civilians were killed in the last five months of the conflict alone.

Rights groups accuse Sri Lanka of deliberately shelling civilians and hospitals and depriving them of food and medicine. The rebels are accused of using civilians as human shields, killing those trying to escape the fighting and conscripting children as soldiers.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed the commission in May primarily to inquire why a Norway-brokered cease-fire between the government and the Tamil rebels signed in 2002 collapsed. Rights groups criticized the move as an act to deflect calls for an international inquiry.

In June, the U.N. appointed a three-member panel to look into alleged violations of international rights and humanitarian laws during the war's final stages. Sri Lanka protested the move as interference in its internal affairs.