The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva will vote Thursday on a resolution to press the Sri Lankan government for a more thorough probe of accusations of mass murder of civilians by the army in the last days of its war against Tamil separatists in 2009.
The resolution, sponsored by the United States, expresses concern about continuing reports that security forces killed, abducted or tortured civilians even after the end of the 26-year conflict that claimed as many as 100,000 lives on the South Asian island nation.
It urges Sri Lanka to implement recommendations in a report last month by the U.N.’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, who questioned the government’s commitment to post-war justice and called for an international investigation.
But the resolution does not call for an international probe, which the Sri Lankan government opposes and human-rights activists insist is vital. The activists expect the resolution to pass.
“Not including a demand for an international investigation is unthinkable and a big omission,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Alan Keenan, London-based Sri Lanka project director at the International Crisis Group, said an international investigation is unavoidable.
“Ultimately, for the [U.N. Human Rights Council’s] actions to have more effect, and for there to be progress toward accountability and justice, the council will have to authorize an international inquiry into alleged violations of international law by government forces and the Tamil Tigers,” he said.
More than two decades of war between the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam — an ethnic Tamil separatist group that pioneered terrorist tactics such as suicide bombings — ended in May 2009 with the army declaring victory. The last few months of fighting were some of the bloodiest in the war.
A U.N. panel found that “multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out.”
The Sri Lankan government says it pursued a policy of “zero civilian casualties” in the war.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a reconciliation commission to examine the conflict and post-war efforts. The commission’s report lists almost 300 recommendations but does not name any military or civilian officials accused of war crimes.
The U.N. resolution says the war commission’s report and a Sri Lankan government action plan ignore allegations of violations of international human-rights law and laws to protect civilians in war zones. The Sri Lankan government has not held anyone accountable for the deaths of civilians in the war.
The Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for a comment on the resolution.