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Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan activists welcome the UN resolution on war crimes

Punishment of those responsible will pave the way for reconciliation

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Sri Lankan activists welcome the UN resolution on war crimes

In this May 18 file photo, Sri Lankan Tamil women cry at the graves of relatives who died in fighting in Mullivaikkal, which witnessed some of the worst atrocities during the last phase of the armed conflict in 2009. (Photo by Quintus Colombage)

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Church and rights activists in Sri Lanka have welcomed the U.N. rights body's resolution calling for the punishment of those responsible for war crimes, saying it will pave the way for accountability and reconciliation.

The 47-nation Human Rights Council in Geneva on Oct. 1 approved a resolution for foreign judges and prosecutors to help Sri Lanka try those accused of serious crimes during and after the country's decades-long civil war.

"It is necessary to have a credible national process of accountability with international monitors and the mechanisms should address the issue of redress of past abuses and violations," said Father Nandana Manathunga, the human rights director of the Kandy Diocese.

"The mechanism should be totally independent and transparent, displaying the highest degree of professionalism, integrity, and impartiality with participatory methods that include the views from all relevant stakeholders including, victims, women, youth, representatives from various religions, ethnicities, and geographic locations," Father Manathunga told ucanews.com.

Ruki Fernando, a human rights advocate, hoped that the Sri Lankan government would not come in the way of denying truth and justice to the families of survivors and recognize "that the best option for accountability is through hybrid accountability mechanisms that will have international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators."

The U.N. Human Rights Office had documented killings, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, torture and attacks on civilians between 2002 and 2011 committed on both sides of Sri Lanka's civil war, which came to an official end in 2009 when the government overran Tamil guerrillas in the country's north.

In the final phase of the war, the Tamil rebels held a large section of the Tamil civilian population as human shields. The former Sri Lankan government that prosecuted the war to its end, denied allegations of mass civilian killings in smashing its way through this human shield or of other war crimes.

Unlike in the past, Sri Lanka agreed to co-sponsor the resolution presented initially by the United States, United Kingdom and some other countries. It had refused to accept the need for an international investigation on the basis of national sovereignty.

"The victims of the conflict have waited years and now responsibility rests with the government of Sri Lanka, working together with stakeholders including civil society," said New York-based Human Rights Watch in an Oct. 1 statement.

Tamil politicians said an international investigation was not enough to address concerns.

"Tamil people seek justice for their disappeared relatives, extrajudicial killings, torture and the investigations are only against perpetrators of human rights law," said M.K.Shivajilingam, a member of the Northern Provincial Council.

According to the United Nations the war claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days alone. 

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