- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2013

The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday passed a U.S.-backed resolution that urges the Sri Lankan government to properly investigate accusations that its army was involved in the mass murder of civilians in the final days of its war against Tamil separatists in 2009.

The resolution passed 25 to 13, with eight abstentions, in the 47-nation council. It calls on the Sri Lankan government to “initiate credible and independent actions” to ensure justice and accountability in the aftermath of the conflict.

The resolution asks Sri Lanka to probe allegations of summary executions, kidnappings and other abuses, but stops short of demanding an international investigation, which human rights activists say is crucial for a credible probe. It also expresses concern about continuing reports of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture on the South Asian island nation.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the resolution “encourages the government of Sri Lanka to continue on the path toward lasting peace and prosperity.”

“This resolution … re-affirmed that Sri Lanka must take meaningful action on reconciliation and accountability in order to move forward,” he said.

The text that was put to a vote was a watered-down version of the original draft, but human rights activists said it still had enough heft to put the Sri Lankan government on the spot.

More than two decades of war between the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a Tamil separatist group, ended in May of 2009 with the army declaring victory.

About 100,000 were killed in the conflict, but the last few months of fighting were some of the bloodiest.

A U.N. panel of experts found that “multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out” in the final phase of the battle.

Both sides have been accused of human rights abuses.

The Sri Lankan government says it pursued a policy of “zero civilian casualties” in the war.

Hours before the vote, a Sri Lankan Embassy spokesman said the resolution was “uncalled for.”

“Intrusive and condemnatory resolutions such as this will retard the domestic healing and reconciliation process taking place in Sri Lanka,” the Sri Lankan spokesman said in a written response to The Washington Times. “It will lead to friction and polarization of the Sri Lankan polity and unhelpful for the reconciliation activity. Between friendly countries if indeed there are issues, such issues can be taken up bilaterally and certainly not at multilateral [forum].”

The U.N. council passed a similar resolution last year that the Obama administration and human rights activists say was largely ignored by the Sri Lankan government.

The Obama administration said the new resolution was in response to the fact that the Sri Lankan government had not fulfilled earlier promises.

The Sri Lankan government has dragged its feet on the investigation because its top military and political officials appear to believe that the Tamil Tigers were such a terrible group that anything that was done to defeat it was justified, and if there were to be an independent judicial process, the top military and political leadership would find itself at risk of prosecution, said Alan Keenan, London-based Sri Lanka project director at the International Crisis Group.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to examine the conflict and post-conflict efforts. The commission’s report did not list any military or civilian officials against whom allegations of war crimes have been made.

Sri Lanka should be given the time and space to implement the [commission’s] recommendations and the National Plan of Action,” said the Sri Lankan Embassy spokesman. “Undue pressure exerted by external parties is not helpful in the resolution of delicate issues of reconciliation.”

The embassy spokesman said there was no deliberate targeting of civilians, the war commission’s recommendations on accountability had not been ignored, and the Sri Lankan army had set up a court of inquiry.

Human rights activists are skeptical about the Sri Lankan government’s commitment to investigate accusations against the army.

“The Sri Lankan government is involved in some kind of theater where they keep setting up commissions, which fail,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

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