Govt cautious over Sri Lanka civil war inquiry

A new government takes a cautious step to expose the truth of a bloody conflict killing tens of thousands of civilians in pnly last two weeks of Sri Lanka's civil war

Govt cautious over Sri Lanka civil war inquiry

World Bulletin / News Desk

Six years after the Sri Lanka's civil war, on September 14 this year, countries government promised to set up a "truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence commission" to investigate atrocities committed during the conflict, The Economist reported. The UN Human Rights Council urged foreign judges' participation, Sri Lanka's leaders, fearful of upsetting nationalist voters, reject that.

The pledge to form the commission was made to the UN body by Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera. It was aimed at taking the sting out of what the Sri Lankan government knew would be a hard-hitting 261-page report that was published by the UN two days later.

In it, the council gave details of numerous allegations of what it said could amount to war crimes by both sides during the two-decade-long conflict between the army and the vicious rebels, these include killings, rapes and abductions. The UN's commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, spoke of a "horrific level" of violations and abuses.

Many members of Sri Lanka's ethnic Sinhalese majority, however, do not want foreigners to get involved in prosecuting such cases. Samaraweera stopped short of admitting that the army committed crimes against the country's Tamil minority, as many Tamils allege it did, especially during the final bloody phase of the war, which ended in 2009. He only conceded that the reputation of the armed forces had been tarnished "because of the system and culture created by a few in positions of responsibility".

Those "few" would include Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose ten years in power ended abruptly when he lost an election in January. With a sturdy base among Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority, he oversaw the rout of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as president and head of the armed forces. One of his brothers, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was defence secretary.

Maithripala Sirisena, who replaced him as president, might even be sucked in; he was acting as defence minister during the last two weeks of the battle, when tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed.

For the first time in nearly four decades, however, a Tamil parliamentarian leads the opposition. Another Tamil is the chief justice. The government has vowed to criminalise hate speech. But there are towering obstacles to reconciliation between Sri Lanka's ethnic groups - Rajapaksa being one of them. He is now serving as a legislator. If he is accused of war crimes, even by a tribunal from which foreigners are excluded, there may be a backlash against the government among Sinhalese nationalists who revere him.

Rajapaksa denies that any war crimes were committed, but a commission he set up did find evidence of some wrongdoing. His troops went to battle "carrying a gun in one hand, the Human Rights Charter in the other," he said in 2011. The UN report suggests that he is talking rot. For the country to admit as much would be progress. Before the council, Samaraweera acknowledged scepticism about Sri Lanka's ability to transform. 

Güncelleme Tarihi: 22 Eylül 2015, 11:41