Under war crimes pressure, Sri Lanka begins new rights probe

Reuters News
Posted: May 26, 2011 10:39 AM
Under war crimes pressure, Sri Lanka begins new rights probe

By Ranga Sirilal

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka said Thursday its dormant human rights commission would begin hearing new complaints, as the Indian Ocean nation remains under mounting Western pressure to investigate war crimes allegations made by a U.N.-appointed panel.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, which has no judicial powers beyond recommending government authorities take action, said it will begin a probe of serious rights violations nationwide, including those from the war.

"We propose to appoint a panel of retired judges to look into all the pending important cases," commission chairman Priyantha Perera told Reuters. "We want this panel of judges to look into more serious violations in every part of the country."

Western governments led by the United States have pushed Sri Lanka to establish a believable probe into the panel's finding of "credible evidence" government troops killed thousands of civilians at the end of the country's civil war in 2009.

Sri Lanka says the accusations parrot propaganda from supporters of the defeated Tamil Tiger separatists, and dismisses the panel's findings as groundless and biased. It denies troops targeted civilians.

The government said reactivation of the commission and appointment of the panel was not done to appease anyone.

"There was no special reason to reactivate now. Since the war is over, there was a need to activate," acting cabinet spokesman and deputy minister of economic development Lakshman Yapa Awbeywardene told reporters.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has said the separate Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is already implementing reconciliation moves shaped by testimony taken from those affected by the war.

Critics say the LLRC lacks independence, and is likely to go the way of four decades' worth of Sri Lankan probes into rights abuses since the first of three violent insurgencies began in 1971, and find nothing and hold no one responsible.

Washington has warned that failure to credibly investigate the allegations and establish genuine reconciliation could lead to an international war crimes probe.

Most diplomats involved with Sri Lanka see that as a remote possibility, given Chinese and Russian backing for Sri Lanka on the U.N. Security Council. The U.N. Human Rights council, meeting next week, may take up the matter.

Sri Lanka will hold a military parade and memorial for fallen soldiers Friday to mark the second anniversary of the defeat of the Tamil Tigers, which ended a quarter-century civil war.

(Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Sugita Katyal)