Sri Lankan government officials, Tamils in exile from the Indian Ocean island and rights groups sparred verbally at an open hearing Thursday during the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
"After 30 years we are now coming out of a state of war and we want to engage with the Tamil diaspora," Sri Lankan human rights envoy Mahinda Samarashinghe told the heated meeting.
He and other Sri Lankan government officials reiterated that there was no justification for a US-backed move to censure the country over its investigation into alleged war crimes.
Some Tamils said they had been photographed during the meeting by a person with Sri Lankan government accreditation and they complained to UN security officials about intimidation.
At the opening session of the human rights council on Monday, Britain’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Jeremy Browne urged Sri Lanka to implement the recommendation made in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
"Where states fail, institutions of the UN should act to make change," said Browne.
Samarashinghe said Sri Lanka has taken steps to act on the recommendations and also referred to a five-year national plan of action for the promotion of human rights that was presented at the meeting.
"We resent deeply being told how to run our house," said one member of the Sri Lankan delegation who also attacked Western NGOs.
But he was countered by Tamils who said government reconciliatory promises were never kept.
Amnesty International Sri Lanka expert Yolanda Foster challenged the Sri Lankans to make public their findings on killings and disappearances saying the government has not come clean on its promises to victims of violence.
Sri Lanka has faced strong international criticism over the bloody finale of its civil war in 2009 but has avoided censure at the Human Rights Council amid hopes overseas that the government would come up with a domestic plan.
Human rights groups estimate that up to 40,000 civilians perished in the final months of the government’s military campaign to crush the Tamil Tigers, who waged a bloody decades-long campaign for a separate homeland for the Tamil minority.