Nationalist Sri Lankan groups called Friday for a boycott of American goods to punish the U.S. for backing a U.N. resolution urging the South Asian nation to investigate possible war crimes during the final months of its civil war.
But human rights groups and ethnic Tamil politicians praised the move as an opportunity for the country to build peace after a quarter-century of horrific violence.
On Thursday, the U.N Human Rights Council in Geneva passed a resolution urging Sri Lanka to probe allegations of summary executions, kidnappings and other abuses its troops were accused of as they defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009 after a 25-year civil war.
Foreign Minister Gamini Peiris said the vote set a precedent for powerful nations to interfere in the internal affairs of others.
"Might overrules right," read a front-page headline in Friday’s state-run Daily News. The paper accused sections of the international community of trying to undermine Sri Lanka.
Government officials, who had organized weeks of furious protests against the vote, said external pressure would disturb the peace and asked that the country be given time and space to rebuild strained relations between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil ethnic communities.
Outside the railway station in the capital, Colombo, protesters handed out stickers Friday urging the public to say "No to Coca-Cola, wheat flour, Pepsi — Let’s boycott American goods for the country."
"Although the Americans may not feel this boycott, we must show our protest. That way, we can establish an anti-American sentiment among the people," said protest organizer Gunadasa Amarasekara, leader of the National Patriotic Front party.
A U.N. report released in 2010 said there were credible allegations that government troops had deliberately shelled Tamil civilians and hospitals and blocked food and medicine to civilians in the war zone in the final months of the war. The rebels, known for their widespread use of suicide bombers and child soldiers, were accused of holding civilians as human shields and killing people who tried to flee their control.
However, a government war commission report released last year said the military could not have targeted civilians, though it recommended the government probe isolated cases of abuses that have been reported against the security forces.
The U.N. resolution urged Sri Lanka to follow through on that recommendation.
Amnesty International said Thursday’s vote was a positive step forward for Sri Lankans and an opportunity to end "long-standing immunity for human rights violations."
The Tamil National Alliance, the main Tamil political party, welcomed the vote as the first step in the pursuit of justice and accountability.
Tamil social activist Shanthi Satchithanantham said she fears the U.N. pressure might harden Sri Lanka into eschewing reconciliation efforts.
Nimal Karunasiri, a 41-year-old Sinhalese clerk, said the resolution was the result of the government’s flawed policy after the war.
"The government could have been more diplomatic and avoided antagonizing countries," he said, adding it did not address ethnic grievances and human rights issues before anyone asked.