Sri Lanka says no to UN war crimes investigation

Parliament votes against it overwhelmingly
Sri Lanka says no to UN war crimes investigation

Tamils detained against their will at the Menik Farm camp leave after the camp was closed in 2012. reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka
June 19, 2014
Sri Lanka’s parliament on Wednesday voted against a United Nations led probe to investigate alleged atrocities that occurred during the country’s civil war. 

The vote comes after the UN Human Rights Council announced last week that it had appointed a 12-member panel to investigate war crimes in the island nation. Sri Lanka was embroiled in a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009 when government forces defeated the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Both sides have been accused of a wide range of rights abuses.

“The investigations should not be carried out on the grounds [that] it disturbs the process of peace and reconciliation in the country,” said Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe. “The UN Human Rights Council action erodes the dignity, sovereignty and stature of the country.”

“We are against any international interference into the country’s internal issues,” he added.

Before the parliament vote, Sri Lanka had already stated that it would not cooperate with the probe. The motion was approved with 144 votes in favor and 10 against in Sri Lanka’s 225-member parliament. However, the motion rejecting the investigation is not binding.

“Irrespective of what the Sri Lankan parliament decides, the investigation will go ahead on the basis of available information and on the basis of testimonies of those...who will come forward,” said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Colombo.

“Were the findings of the investigation to [show] government culpability in respect of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, it will be left to the individual members of the international community to decide on how best to act upon them,” Saravanamuttu said.

“Sri Lanka could face serious consequences” if the findings are presented at the UN Security Council, he added.

The minority Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was the only party to vote against the motion while the main opposition – the United National Party (UNP) – abstained from the vote. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress also boycotted parliament during the vote.

R. Sampanthan, leader of the TNA, said that the UN investigation could be an opportunity for Tamils to discover the truth about what happened during the final days of the war, and pointed out that it was not a plot against the nation as a whole.

“The investigations are only against perpetrators of human rights [violations],” said Sampanthan.

Sajith Premadas, a UNP parliamentarian, said that if the government were to look into the accusations fairly, there would be no need for an international investigation.

“The government must form a local investigation mechanism to probe ongoing human rights abuses and war crimes,” he said.

The government established its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in 2010. However, it has been widely criticized.

Saravanamuttu said that an internal investigation would be difficult to carry out with any degree of legitimacy.

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“The question here is as to whether we can have a credible and independent domestic mechanism given what has happened and is happening to the institutions and processes of governance, especially the judiciary and the rule of law,” Saravanamuttu said.

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