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Documentary urges international probe for Sri Lankan war victims

COLOMBO, Sept 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A documentary made by a British film maker has called for an international court to probe alleged war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s 26-year conflict, just days ahead of a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting on the issue.

The documentary ‘Sri Lanka: The Search for Justice’ said despite the election of a new government in January, there had been no justice for ethnic minority Tamils who bore the brunt of abuses in the final phase of the war which ended in May 2009.

The film, made by journalist and director Callum Macrae, called for an international court, rather than a domestic process, to try to dispense justice – something the United States recently said it would support, if credible.

"Most of the Tamil victims believe that a purely domestic judicial process would be nothing less than a victor’s court," Macrae said in the 30-minute film, which featured interviews with survivors who witnessed abuses on the Indian Ocean island.

"Instead, they hope the international community and the members of the Human Rights Council will accept the need for a process under international jurisdiction they can trust to be fair and impartial," he said.

The film includes footage of Tamils trying to escape military attacks in the former rebel-held area, blood-soaked bodies of people killed in attacks, and thousands of displaced people fleeing into a so-called "No Fire Zone".

The new government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, who is backed overwhelmingly by ethnic minority Tamils and Muslims, has promised a domestic probe with international standards to address abuses and reconciliation.

But the documentary said this would not be acceptable to many Tamils as "many senior officials in the new government and state forces who say they can be trusted to set up such inquiry (are) themselves accused of direct complicity of the crime."

Government officials were not immediately available for comment. But former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration had repeatedly rejected alleged rights abuses and refused to cooperate with a U.N. probe.

A U.N. panel has said that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in 2009 in the final months of the war. At that time government troops advanced on the ever-shrinking northern tip of the island, controlled by Tamil rebels fighting for an independent homeland.

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The panel said it had "credible allegations" that both Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels carried out atrocities but said the government was responsible for most of the deaths.

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