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Pressure grows for Sri Lanka human rights inquiry

[Reuters, Friday, 15 May 2009 14:57 No Comment]

United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay supports growing calls for an inquiry in Sri Lanka’s war zone that remains closed to most outsiders and aid, her spokesman said on Friday.

Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights agreed with the European Union and activist groups that international scrutiny was needed of the conflict that has pushed the Indian Ocean island into a humanitarian crisis.

"We agree that something of that sort is now essential. There has to be accountability for what has gone in Sri Lanka, there has to be clarity, there cannot be impunity," he said.

A draft statement prepared for EU foreign ministers to consider on Monday said the 27-nation bloc was appalled by reports that large numbers of civilians, including children, have been killed in the stepped-up warfare.

"The fighting must stop now," said the document, which called for alleged violations by both sides to be investigated in an independent inquiry. It calls on Tamil Tiger militants to lay down their arms and urges the government to refrain from an unnecessarily deadly final assault.

Sri Lanka’s government has so far brushed off calls from the U.N. Security Council and U.S. President Barack Obama to slow its offensive and the Tigers have refused to surrender and free tens of thousands of people they are holding as human shields.

 

SPECIAL SESSION

Britain, France and other EU states are pushing for the U.N. Human Rights Council to convene a special session on Sri Lanka’s violence, as it has done in the past to examine the occupied Palestinian territories, Myanmar and Sudan’s Darfur region.

At least 16 of the U.N. body’s 47 member states must support the proposal for such an emergency meeting to take place. If it occurs, a special session could see the Council appointing an envoy or inquiry team to report on conditions in Sri Lanka.

Diplomats in Brussels said some EU states are questioning whether an inquiry would alleviate the immediate humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka, where aid groups are largely unable to access the besieged northeast strip. [nCOL458480]

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been forced to temporarily suspend evacuations and aid deliveries to people trapped in the war zone, and the World Food Programme has not been able to get a major shipment delivered there since April 1.

"We are simply not able to do anything," ICRC spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas told Reuters in Geneva.

The International Commission of Jurists, headed by former Irish president Mary Robinson, on Friday accused the Sri Lankan government of ignoring its obligations in the recent military burst meant to end the country’s long-running civil war.

"The government is engaged in a deliberate strategy of denial and cover-up," the ICJ said in a statement.

"Major donors to Sri Lanka, such as the United States, the European Union, India, Japan and China, have a particular responsibility to take steps to resolve this crisis which poses a threat to regional stability," the Geneva-based group said.

Pillay expressed concern two months ago that war crimes and crimes against humanity may have been committed in the conflict, by both government forces and the LTTE Tamil Tigers fighting for an independent homeland. [ID:nLD487098]

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