UN rights chief blasts Sri Lanka over war probe

(AFP) The UN rights chief on Wednesday condemned Sri Lanka’s persistent failure to probe war-era atrocities, suggesting that the government was afraid of punishing soldiers who committed abuses during the conflict.

Criticism from Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is the latest volley in an escalating war of words between the United Nations and Sri Lanka over impunity for crimes committed during the 37-year civil war, which ended in 2009.

"Consistent failure to effectively investigate, prosecute and punish serious crimes appears to reflect a broader reluctance or fear to take action against members of the security forces," Zeid said in a speech to the UN rights council.

Zeid and the council have called for international judges to help investigate possible war crimes to guarantee impartiality.

But earlier this month, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena rejected the appeal, saying he would not "allow non-governmental organisations to dictate how to run my government", nor heed calls to "to prosecute my troops."

Colombo has also asked the UN for two more years to set up a war-era probe, after Sirisena’s government agreed to the terms of an October 2015 UN resolution calling for an inquiry to be formed within 18 months.

Zeid said any justice mechanism set up by Colombo would need foreign judges in order to be "credible".

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

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Sirisena, a member of the majority Sinhalese community, received the support of the Tamil minority after promising accountability for excesses carried out by the largely Sinhalese military.

But Sri Lanka’s main opposition Tamil party has accused Sirisena of failing to deliver on accountability.