Sri Lanka President rejects foreign pressure over war crimes

ECONOMYNEXT – President Maithripala Sirisena asked the United Nations and member states not to pressure Sri Lanka in dealing with war crimes and ensuring non-recurrence of human rights violations nearly a decade after ending the island’s separatist war.

Addressing the 73rd United nations general Assembly in New York on Tuesday evening (Sri Lanka Wednesday morning) President Sirisena repeatedly asked foreigners to back off Sri Lanka.

“Allow us to solve our problems,” Sirisena said. “A country’s independence is very important.”

He insisted that he had improved the country’s human rights record and also taken steps to ensure ethnic unity and prevent the country slipping back to conflict.

He also paid tribute to Sri Lankan security forces for crushing separatist Tamil Tiger rebels and ensuring peace and stability in the island after decades of war.

“Look at our country with new ideas with a new perspective and help my country,” the President said while addressing the UNGA in Sinhalese.

He made no reference to the UN Human Rights Council resolution seeking a credible investigation into allegations that Sri Lankan troops killed thousands of Tamil civilians in the final months of the war.

The UNHRC resolution calls for a credible independent investigation in to allegations of rights abuses said to have been committed by both government forces as well as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The UN has also been highly critical of the LTTE for using child soldiers, using civilians as human shields, deploying suicide bombers and targeting civilians. Any move to drop investigations will also leave the Tamil Tigers off the hook.

Eleven days ago, Sirisena told local media heads that he will make fresh proposals to the United Nations seeking a reprieve from war crimes allegations, including accusations that troops killed 40,000 Tamil civilians during the final months of the war.





However, in his speech to the UNGA, there was no fresh proposal, but an assertion of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.

Before leaving for New York, Sirisena had promised to unveil a raft of proposals and also make written submissions to the Human Rights Council in Geneva for its consideration at the next sessions in March 2019.

"I will also make a written request to the Human Rights Council to settle the allegations against our troops," Sirisena said on September 15 in Colombo. "I want to tell them to remove these charges. We can amicably resolve this issue."

Former president Mahinda Rajapakse crushed the Tamil Tigers in a no-holds-barred military campaign that ended in May 2009. He also insisted that forces under his command did not kill a single civilian and refused to accept any investigation.

Unlike Rajapaksa, Sirisena has pledged to ensure accountability for wartime atrocities, but subjecting army to scrutiny in the majority-Sinhalese country has proved controversial.

Sirisena had acknowledged there may have been excesses and had promised to set up an accountability mechanism. He is yet to deliver on the pledge however.

Last year, Sirisena sought and received a two-year extension of a deadline to implement the 2015 resolution. The new deadline expires in March next year, but it is not clear what action the rights body could take if Sri Lanka fails to comply.

At least 100,000 people were killed during the separatist war between government forces and rebels from the Tamil Tigers group, with atrocities recorded by both sides.

Although there has been no investigation of the military, Sirisena has set up an Office of Missing Persons to trace more than 20,000 people still missing. (COLOMBO, September 26, 2018)

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