- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2012

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris on Friday apprised Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of the steps his government is taking to hold accountable those responsible for committing war crimes during a three decade-long war with Tamil rebels.

“We did discuss accountability and informed them of the machinery that has been set up to deal with that,” Mr. Peiris told reporters on Friday evening.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 appointed a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to examine the conflict and post-conflict efforts. The commission’s report, which lists almost 300 recommendations, does not name any officials – military or civilian – against whom allegations of war crimes have been made.

Mr. Peiris said Sri Lanka’s attorney general has been tasked with examining the commission’s report to determine whether there is any evidence that would justify the institution of criminal proceedings and stand up in a court of law.

The Obama administration has urged the Sri Lankan government to develop a comprehensive action plan for implementing steps on reconciliation and accountability for the alleged war crimes.

The United Nations Human Rights Council passed a U.S.-sponsored resolution in March that also asked Sri Lanka develop such an action plan.

Mr. Peiris said he did not present an action plan, but gave Mrs. Clinton a “comprehensive account” of the steps his government has taken so far.

“We said, ‘This is the work that we have undertaken and completed so far,’ and we gave them some indication of our priorities,” he said.

“These are the recommendations of the [LLRC] which are capable of immediate implementation, the low-hanging fruit as it were,” he added.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Mrs. Clinton told the minister: “‘Good plan, now you really need to make it public; now you really need to show your people, the world, the concrete implementation steps going forward.’”

Mrs. Clinton emphasized the importance of accountability, strengthening public confidence in the process, and speeding up the healing of the country, Ms. Nuland said.

The Sri Lankan army declared victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.
A United Nations panel found credible reports that both the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE had committed war crimes during the final months of the war.

Human rights groups say the Sri Lankan government has been reluctant to hold accountable those responsible for alleged war crimes during the war. Some of the most serious allegations pertain to the final phase of the conflict.

“Two months after the U.N. Human Rights Council criticized Sri Lanka’s lack of progress towards reconciliation and accountability for grave human rights abuses, the government has still taken no concrete steps even to implement the recommendations of its own reconciliation commission,” said Alan Keenan, London-based Sri Lanka project director at the International Crisis Group.

“The absence of any public ‘action plan’ for implementing the commission’s recommendations reveals Colombo’s continued lack of commitment to meaningful political reform or justice,” he added.

Frank Jannuzi, head of Amnesty International’s Washington office, said the international community must immediately begin its own investigation into the war crimes and human rights abuses.

“The international community cannot wait while the Sri Lankan government makes empty promises amid smoke and mirrors,” he said.

The Sri Lankan government opposes an international investigation.

Mr. Peiris said his government has completed 90 percent of the work connected to the resettlement of people displaced by the war, including rehabilitating 595 child soldiers.

In the Tamil-dominated northern province, the economy is growing at a rate of 22 percent in comparison with Sri Lanka’s 8 percent rate, he added.

The LTTE, which recruited child soldiers and deployed suicide bombers, was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in 1997.

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