Colombo: A panel advising the UN secretary-general on accountability for the bloody end of Sri Lanka’s war overstepped its mandate by producing a investigative report concluding there are “credible allegations” of war crimes, Sri Lanka said on Thursday.
The panel, whose report has been leaked to newspapers on the Indian Ocean island, primarily blames the government for what it says were tens of thousands of civilian casualties, and urged the prosecution of those responsible for rights violations.
The report focuses on the final months of Sri Lanka’s quarter-century war with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended with the annihilation of the Tiger leadership and government victory in May 2009.
Foreign minister GL Peiris said the panel was appointed strictly to advise UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and not to investigate or become a fact-finding body.
“So how can this panel transform itself into an investigative panel ? They must confine themselves to the limit of their mandate,” Peiris told reporters, adding that Sri Lanka had strongly urged Ban not to formally publish the report.
The report by the panel appointed by Ban represents the biggest pressure brought to bear on the government since the end of the war, when Western governments pushed in vain for a ceasefire to protect civilians.
Sri Lanka’s government has consistently denied allegations that it targeted civilians. It has acknowledged that some were killed as troops advanced on an ever-shrinking patch of land on the northeastern coast of the island.
Many ordinary Sri Lankans are bemused at the push to investigate war crimes, now that the country is enjoying its first peace in almost 30 years.
“We live in peace and harmony and now the UN wants to disturb the peace we achieved by defeating terrorism,” farmer MAV Upul Kumara, 40, told Reuters after signing a petition against the report sponsored by the Jathika Hela Urumaya political party, led by nationalist Buddhist monks.
As it did when under pressure to slow its offensive as the Tigers were encircled and holding hundreds of thousands of people as human shields, Sri Lanka has sought Chinese and Russian backing at the UN Security Council.
Peiris declined to comment on the contents of the report itself, saying it had not been formally published.
He urged the United Nations not to preempt the findings of the government’s Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and said the UN report should include those findings.
Sri Lanka barred the UN panel from the country.
“We are very much conscious of the fact that the need of the hour is reconciliation,” Peiris said. “What needs to be emphasised is oneness and solidarity ... we have to consider whether it is useful to have a report of this nature.”
The panel says the LLRC fails to meet international standards. President Mahinda Rajapaksa founded the commission under a post-war agreement with Ban to look at the end of the war.
Sri Lanka has a four-decade history of commissions of inquiry that have failed to hold anyone responsible for rights violations running the gamut from murder and abduction to torture and intimidation during three separate insurgencies.
The LTTE fought to establish a separate state for Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils, who have complained of persecution by successive governments ruled by the Sinhalese majority since independence from Britain in 1948.
Sri Lanka also experienced 1971 and 1988-89 uprisings by Marxists, which the government crushed violently at the cost of more than 100,000 lives, primarily young, rural members of the Sinhalese community.