Learn from UN report, Christians say
Sri Lanka must use panel's findings to 'help with reconciliation and find justice for victims'
Displaced people on the way back to their villages after the war
Christian clergy and laymen have urged serious consideration of a damning UN panel report and say it should be treated as a resource and tool towards a process of reconciliation based on truth, justice, accountability and reparation for victims. “We call on all Sri Lankans and particularly religious leaders and the government to take into serious consideration the stories of our brothers and sisters contained in the report, along with its conclusions and recommendations,” they said in a statement. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed the panel last June to advise him on the alleged killing of civilians during the final stages of the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels. The panel submitted its report last week, a copy of which was handed over to the Sri Lankan government. It said government shelling killed most of the tens of thousands of civilians who died in those final months, in 2009. The report also accuses rebels of using civilians as human shields. Anglican Bishop Emeritus Kumara Illangasinghe, Father Jeyabalan Croos, Jesuit Father Thangarasa Jeevaraj and Father Nandana Manatunga, were among those who signed the statement. The UN is calling for an independent investigation into what it says could constitute war crimes. The government has consistently denied allegations that it targeted civilians and opposed the setting up of the UN investigation. “Instead of denial and rejection that seems to be happening now, we believe all Sri Lankans should treat this report as a resource and tool in our own efforts towards a process of reconciliation that is based on truth, justice, accountability and reparation for victims,” the statement said. They said the UN report basically confirmed what they already knew. “We have received desperate calls, emails and messages about how the government repeatedly shelled the no fire zones in which it asked civilians to take shelter, how hospitals and food distribution centers were attacked when their locations were known and clearly marked and about people being killed and injured in these places and in bunkers they had dug with bare hands,” the Christian statement said. The Christians also allege the Tamil rebels held civilians as a shield and killed others who attempted to flee areas it controlled. “We have been told about how the LTTE [Tamil Tiger rebels] took cover behind civilians to fire at the advancing army. How the LTTE tried to prevent civilians fleeing the war zone, and how they shot people when they tried to flee in desperation,” the statement said. “We also recognize that many who would have liked to retell these stories have refrained from doing so out of fear of reprisals. And we salute the few that have had the courage to share some of these stories,” they added.