Sri Lanka President rejects foreign judges in war probe
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena has flatly rejected the UN’s renewed call for international judges to investigate war crimes under his predecessor and vowed there will be no prosecutions of security forces.
In his strongest rebuff of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Sirisena said he cannot be bullied by international pressure, or non governmental organizations to prosecute troops that defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.
"I am not going to allow non-governmental organisations to dictate how to run my government. I will not listen to their calls to prosecute my troops," the president said.
"A charge sheet is now brought against our forces with a demand to include foreign judges to try them," Sirisena said while addressing troops in Palaly, the main military complex in the former war zone of Jaffna.
It was Sirisena’s first public response to Friday’s UN Human Rights Council report card on Sri Lanka and a fresh call to set up laws for a hybrid court that involved international judges and prosecutors.
The 17-page report noted that Sri Lanka’s progress in addressing war-time atrocities was "worryingly slow" and renewed the UN call for "hybrid courts" which both Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have resisted in the past.
UN figures show that at least 100,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka’s 37-year separatist war which was led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam who were known for trade mark suicide bombings.
Sirisena came to power in January 2015 with the electoral support of Tamils after promising accountability for excesses carried out by the largely Sinhalese military under former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sirisena had even agreed to a Human Rights Council resolution in October 2015 which called for special tribunals and reparations for victims.
However, his remarks on Saturday marked a sharp shift in his policy on accountability and reconciliation.
The council at its ongoing sessions in Geneva expressed fears for peace and stability in the island.
UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the island had made "worryingly slow" progress in addressing its wartime past, warning this could threaten lasting peace and stability.
"I urge the government and people of Sri Lanka to prioritise justice alongside reconciliation to ensure that the horrors of the past are firmly dealt with, never to recur," he said.
The UN report acknowledged that Colombo had made some positive advances on constitutional and legal reforms, limited land restitution and symbolic gestures towards reconciliation.
But it cautioned that the measures taken so far had been "inadequate, lacked coordination and a sense of urgency."
Shortly after addressing troops at Palaly, Sirisena met with local Tamil politicians and a cross section of civil society and promised more frequent visits to the region.
He set up an office for Tamils to lodge complaints directly with the president and said the move should build a strong between him and the Jaffna Tamils.
In his remarks to the civilians, a copy of which was released by his office on Sunday, did not refer to war crimes investigations or rejecting the latest UN call for international judges, a key demand of the Tamils. (COLOMBO, March 5, 2017)