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Sri Lanka fights against UN civil war inquiry

March 26, 2014

GENEVA (AP) — Sri Lanka on Wednesday rejected a U.S.-led call for accountability after the U.N.’s top human rights official recommended an international criminal investigation of abuses from the island nation’s civil war that ended in 2009.

U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay has recommended that the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council authorize an “independent international inquiry” in Sri Lanka because she said it has made little progress toward ensuring accountability for alleged atrocities and war crimes committed during its civil war against minority Tamil rebels.

After a quarter-century of fighting, the government crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels who said they faced discrimination from the Sinhalese majority. A U.N. report found that as many as 40,000 people may have been killed in the final phase of the civil war, but the government disputes that figure.

Sri Lanka’s efforts to investigate past human rights violations have not been effective or inspired confidence among victims and witnesses, said Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, who also criticized what she called the continuing harassment and intimidation of human rights advocates in Sri Lanka.

“New evidence continues to emerge, and witnesses are willing to come forward to testify before international mechanisms in which they have confidence and which can guarantee their protection,” she said, referring to recently discovered mass graves.

The United States is sponsoring a third resolution at the council calling for an international probe of alleged war crimes if Sri Lanka fails to conduct one of its own. Voting on the resolution is expected Thursday.

“There’s still much work to be done to ensure genuine reconciliation, justice and accountability for alleged war crimes as well as democratic governance and respect for human rights in Sri Lanka,” Paula Schriefer, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, told the council.

Sri Lankan U.N. envoy Ravinatha Pandukabhaya Aryasinha, whose nation has been locked in a bitter dispute with Pillay, described her report as biased and inaccurate, and called her recommendation an attempt to needlessly interfere with his country.

The U.N. rights council, he said, “fails to acknowledge let alone appreciate the consolidation of peace and the very tangible progress Sri Lanka has made in reconciliation.”

Last year Pillay accused the country’s powerful Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and other government officials of waging a campaign at discrediting her and her office.

Pillay, a former South African judge of Indian Tamil ethnicity, concluded that democracy was being undermined and the rule of law was being eroded in Sri Lanka, with the country increasingly becoming an authoritarian state.

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