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UN report finds both sides liable

Sri Lankan forces in the final days of the decades-long civil war. Close to 300,000 people were displaced by the conflict which officially came to an end on 18 May 2009

The government of Sri Lanka has criticized the UN for releasing a report alleging war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both sides during the country's decades-long civil war.

"The UN Panel report is completely baseless and lacks credibility," Keheliya Rambukwella, the Minister of Mass Media and Information and government spokesman, told IRIN on 26 April in Colombo, rejecting all allegations of war crimes against the government.

"We do not see the release of this report as constructive... This will have a destructive effect in the context of Sri Lanka's progress," added Rajiva Wijesinha, a ruling party parliamentarian and Sri Lanka's former secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights.

The 196-page panel report, published on 25 April, concluded that both government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) conducted military operations with flagrant disregard for the protection, rights, welfare and lives of civilians and international law during the final months of the war.

Tens of thousands lost their lives from January to May 2009, many of whom died anonymously in the carnage of the final days, the report said.

The three-person panel of experts set up to advise UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon over issues of accountability after the war found credible allegations comprising five core categories of potential serious violations committed by the government, including the killing of civilians by widespread shelling and the denial of humanitarian assistance.

Between September 2008 and 19 May 2009, the Sri Lankan Army advanced its military campaign into the island's north, using large-scale and widespread shelling, which resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths, the report said.

At the same time, the report cited the LTTE with six core categories of potential serious violations, including using civilians as human buffers, as well as killing civilians who attempted to flee LTTE control.

It also implemented a policy of forced recruitment throughout the war, and in the final stages intensified that to include children as young as 14, the report added.

The panel, which began work in September 2010, determined an allegation was credible if there was a reasonable basis to believe the underlying act or event occurred.

A way forward?

But despite the government's harsh response to the report's release, coupled with the UN panel's call for a credible investigation, some rights activists see it as an important opportunity in the country's future peace and reconciliation.

"The release of the UN panel report is an important step," said Sunila Abeysekara, one of the country's leading human rights defenders, noting it was imperative that the report be made available to all Sri Lankans.

Others, however, remain more cautious, noting that this island nation of 20 million needed its own space to negotiate and foster its own approach to peace.

"I am concerned that changes sought to be imposed from the outside will not be sustainable if the population is not a part of this process of change," Jehan Perera, director of the National Peace Council, a think-tank in Colombo.

"The most sustainable path forward in the country will have to be constructed within the country and in a manner that will ensure that people make their own investment in the processes of democratization and justice. Without internal acceptance, no popular change in Sri Lanka will be sustainable," he said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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