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Sri Lanka rejects UN’s war crime advisory panel

[Reuters, Thursday, 24 June 2010 08:10 No Comment]

Sri Lanka on Wednesday blasted the U.N. chief’s naming of a panel to advise him on war crimes at the end of a quarter-century separatist war, a decision that has full U.S. support, as a violation of its sovereignty.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday named a three-member panel chaired by Indonesia’s former attorney general, Marzuki Darusman, to advise him whether war crimes were committed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s war last year. [ID:nN22526612]

The government had been urging Ban not to appoint the advisory panel, saying it had its own commission to investigate possible human rights violations at the end of its quarter century war with the Tamil Tiger separatists in May 2009.

"Sri Lanka regards the appointment of the Sri Lanka Panel of Experts as an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation," Sri Lanka’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

"This interference, moreover, has potential for exploitation by vested interests hostile to the process of reconciliation taking place in Sri Lanka," it said, a reference to members of the Tamil diaspora it says are Tiger supporters.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, welcomed formation of Ban’s panel, saying in a statement that Washington "supports a robust accountability process." She also urged the Sri Lanka’s leaders to take the U.N. panel seriously.

"We strongly urge the government of Sri Lanka to take advantage of this U.N. panel’s expertise," Rice said.

U.N. officials say the world body is interested in the progress of the "Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation" President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed last month to look into the last seven years of the war.

"For the UN to have a parallel probe is to pre-judge and undermine a process that Sri Lanka has begun as part of its national reconciliation and establishing lasting peace," Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said in a statement.

VISAS DENIED?

The U.N. has said that the panel is not a formal investigative body and would be available to advise the Sri Lankan government should Sri Lanka be interested.

That is highly unlikely. Diplomats say there are already rumblings from the government that they will not grant visas to allow the panel to come to the island.

The panel’s chairman, Darusman, has previous experience with Sri Lanka. He served on a panel of international monitors observing the work of a Sri Lankan commission that investigated a series of major human rights violations.

The observers quit, saying the commission did not meet international standards and had been interfered with politically. The commission produced no substantive results, as has been the case with most such Sri Lankan probes for decades.

Ban’s panel also includes Yasmin Sooka, a South African rights expert who participated in the truth and reconciliation commission there, and Steven Ratner, a U.S. lawyer who advised the U.N. how to bring Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge to justice.

Rights groups took advantage of the anniversary of the war’s end in mid-May to push for an international probe into what they say are tens of thousands of civilian deaths. Sri Lanka is under pressure from the West over its rights record.

[Full Coverage]

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