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UN chief sets conditions for Sri Lanka probe

[AP, Wednesday, 27 April 2011 21:28 No Comment]

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday he will only launch an international investigation into allegations of possible war crimes during the final stages of the Sri Lanka’s civil war two years ago if the government agrees, which is highly unlikely, or member states call for a probe.

A U.N. statement publicly releasing a report by a U.N. panel said the secretary-general has been advised that he needs government consent or a decision from member states in an international forum. He didn’t specify a forum but it could include the U.N. Security Council, General Assembly or Human Rights Council.

The panel called on the secretary-general to immediately establish "an independent international mechanism" to investigate what it called credible allegations that both the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels committed serious violations, including some that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, in the months before the decades-long war ended in May 2009.

The panel, which gathered evidence for 10 months, said tens of thousands died in just the last five months of the war that ended in May 2009. "Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling," it said.

It asked the Human Rights Council to reconsider a resolution that was defeated just days after the end of the war that called for an investigation of abuse allegations.

U.S. Ambassador Susan E. Rice said her country welcomed the release of the report and the panel’s "detailed and extensive work."

"We strongly support the Secretary General’s call for the Sri Lankan authorities to respond constructively to the report and underscore our belief that accountability and reconciliation are inextricably linked," the American ambassador to the U.N. said.

The secretary-general had sent the report to the Sri Lankan government on April 12 so that he could include its response when the report was officially released. Instead, the report was leaked to The Island newspaper in Sri Lanka on April 17, and the government issued a statement calling it "fundamentally flawed and patently biased" and "presented without any verification."

Ban’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, noted in Monday’s statement that the Sri Lankan government has not responded to his offer to respond to the report "which nonetheless still stands."

The panel called on the Sri Lankan government to immediately begin "genuine investigations" into alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by both sides.

Ban supported the recommendation, saying "that Sri Lanka should, first and foremost, assume responsibility for ensuring accountability for the alleged violations" and encouraged the government "to respond constructively."

Under intense international pressure to investigate abuses, Sri Lanka did appoint a Lessions Learnt and Reconciliation Commission last year, but the U.N. panel said that body does not meet international standards and is compromised by the conflict of interest of several members.

The panel also recommended that Ban conduct a comprehensive review of U.N. actions during the Sri Lankan conflict focusing on its implementation of mandates to provide humanitarian assistance and protect civilians.

Nesirky said the secretary-general "will respond positively" to this recommendation focusing on the last stages of the war. He said the way the review will be carried out will be decided after consultations with relevant U.N. agencies, funds and programs.

Sri Lanka warned the United Nations last Thursday that publicly releasing the report could harm efforts at post-war ethnic reconciliation.

Nesirky said Ban "regrets the inflammatory tone of some of the recent public statements emanating from Sri Lanka" and hopes the report will contribute "to full accountability and justice so that the Sri Lankan government and people will be able to proceed towards national reconciliation."

According to the report, the government "systematically shelled" hospitals in the front lines, and "systematically deprived people in the conflict zone of humanitarian aid, in the form of food and medical supplies, particularly surgical supplies, adding to their suffering."

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