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Sri Lanka seeks to deflect U.N. rights scrutiny

[Reuters, Friday, 22 May 2009 18:10 No Comment]

Sri Lanka has marshaled its allies to try to quash Western censure of alleged human rights abuses committed during its final phase of war against the Tamil Tiger rebels, diplomats said on Friday.

Colombo declared total victory over the Tigers on Monday after cornering them in the northeast of the island and killing off their leaders and remaining fighters in a climactic battle.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last week backed calls in the West for an independent inquiry into possible war crimes in the tiny zone she said may have become a "killing field."

Fending off outside criticism, Sri Lanka on Friday presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council a draft resolution stating the "principle of non-interference" in internal matters and respect for its sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

The draft was backed by 12 countries: China, India, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bolivia, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Saudia Arabia.

Western diplomats, who are also preparing a resolution to be presented at a special Council session on Sri Lanka on Tuesday, said Colombo’s developing country allies were likely to band together to deflect serious scrutiny of its record.

"No matter how much we would like to have a U.N. investigation, it wouldn’t fly with the other countries," a European diplomat told Reuters.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, speaking to a rally in Colombo, brushed off Western calls for a war crimes probe into acts by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the final months of war.

The United Nations said this week that the conflict had killed between 80,000 and 100,000 people since erupting into full-scale civil war in 1983. The toll includes unofficial and unverified tallies showing 7,000 civilian deaths since January.



Colombo’s draft welcomes the end of hostilities and the "liberation by Sri Lanka’s government of tens of thousands of its citizens that were kept by the LTTE against their will as hostages," as well as the government’s efforts to bring peace.

It "commends" the government’s measures to address the urgent needs of internally displaced persons."

Nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians, who followed or were taken by the Tigers as the military relentlessly cornered them, are now in crowded camps after fleeing in the final months.

Aid groups say that Sri Lankan authorities prevented access to the conflict zone and hampered the entry of life-saving medical supplies and evacuations of wounded people.

Geneva-based monitoring group U.N. Watch denounced Sri Lanka’s text as "an outrageous abuse and show of contempt."

"Sri Lanka does not deserve to be praised, but rather condemned for blocking humanitarian emergency relief to thousands, (and) creating conditions leading to the spread of diseases," its executive director Hillel Neuer said.

European states led by Switzerland tried on Friday to hammer out a separate resolution to be submitted to the forum. "Our group is striving for a consensual text," a diplomat said.

Their draft, obtained by Reuters, calls on Sri Lanka to "investigate all allegations" and bring to justice perpetrators of violations including hostage-taking, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.

[Full Coverage]

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