Rights group demands probe of Sri Lankan massacre

AP News
Posted: Aug 03, 2011 5:36 AM
Rights group demands probe of Sri Lankan massacre

An international human rights group urged the United Nations on Wednesday to investigate the execution-style slaying of 17 workers for a French aid agency in Sri Lanka five years ago, after a government probe did not identify the killers.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the government's failure to bring the killers to justice "highlights a broader lack of will to prosecute soldiers and police for rights abuses."

The Sri Lankan employees of Action Against Hunger were found dead in August 2006 in a region rocked by heavy fighting between government soldiers and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels. At the time, European monitors said they were convinced government troops were responsible, but the government blamed the rebels.

"Despite strong evidence of involvement by the security forces in the killings, government inquiries have languished and no one has been arrested for the crime," Human Rights Watch said.

The government, under intense international pressure, appointed a presidential commission in 2007 to probe wartime abuses including the killings of the aid workers. In 2009, the commission exonerated the military of any involvement in the massacre, according to newspaper reports.

The commission's full report was presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and has never been released.

"On the fifth anniversary of the murder of 17 aid workers, the Sri Lankan government is no closer to prosecuting those responsible," James Ross, Human Rights Watch's legal and policy director, said in a statement.

The group also repeated its call for the United Nations to hold "an independent international investigation" into rights violations by all parties in Sri Lanka's civil war.

There was no immediate comment from the government, but officials have repeatedly rejected such calls as a violation of Sri Lankan sovereignty.

Sri Lanka has been under heavy pressure to allow an independent investigation into alleged human rights violations by both government troops and the rebels, which a U.N. expert panel said could amount to war crimes.

The government condemned the U.N. panel's report and appointed its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. But rights groups say the commission has no mandate to probe alleged crimes, and is aimed at deflecting calls for an international inquiry.

The rebels were defeated in May 2009, ending a quarter-century rebellion for a homeland for ethnic minority Tamils. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people died in the conflict.