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UN human rights chief welcomes Sri Lanka report, urges further investigation into conduct of final stages of the war

GENEVA (26 April 2011) -- The High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Tuesday welcomed the public release of the report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on accountability issues related to the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka, and supported the report’s call for further international investigation.*

“The way this conflict was conducted, under the guise of fighting terrorism, challenged the very foundations of the rules of war and cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians,” the High Commissioner said. “I hope the disturbing new information contained in this report will shock the conscience of the international community into finally taking serious action. As the report itself says, addressing violations of international humanitarian or human rights law is not a matter of choice or policy; it is a duty under domestic and international law,” she added.

The Panel reported credible allegations which, if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law was committed by the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE (often referred to as the Tamil Tigers), some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Military commanders and senior leaders on both sides could bear individual criminal responsibility.

The alleged crimes include the repeated and systematic shelling by Government forces of hospitals and spaces where IDPs were crowded, despite ample warnings and knowledge of the risk to civilians. Testimony and visual images also indicate LTTE cadres or suspects were executed, disappeared and possibly subjected to rape and sexual violence by Sri Lankan military forces. The LTTE is also reported to have shown a callous disregard for civilians, using them as a “human buffer,” forcibly recruiting them for military purposes, and preventing them from fleeing.

“The eyewitness accounts and credible information contained in this report demand a full, impartial, independent and transparent investigation,” the High Commissioner said. “Unless there is a sea-change in the Government’s response, which has so far been one of total denial and blanket impunity, a full-fledged international inquiry will clearly be needed.”

The Panel concluded that the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission established by the Government is deeply flawed and cannot satisfy the joint commitment of the President of Sri Lanka and the Secretary-General to an accountability process.

The High Commissioner noted the recent initiatives taken by the Human Rights Council to combat impunity and address accountability issues in different parts of the world, and encouraged its members to reflect on the new information and findings contained in the report on Sri Lanka.

She also urged the Sri Lankan Government “to quickly carry out the measures suggested by the Panel which could bring immediate relief to victims.”

These include repealing the Emergency Regulations and modifying provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act; resolving outstanding disappearance cases; ensuring due process for remaining LTTE detainees; and providing relief measures for victims and survivors of the conflict, including by publicly accounting for civilian deaths and facilitating the recovery and return of human remains to their families.

“In the longer term, however, justice will be essential if there is to be true reconciliation after this terrible and divisive conflict,” Pillay said.

The High Commissioner said she remained very concerned for the protection of witnesses and civil society activists in Sri Lanka, including journalists, and urged the Government to counter calls from certain elements for reprisals in light of the Panel's report.

ENDS

The full text of the Panel of Experts’ report can be found at: http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/POE_Report_Full.pdf

See previous press release by the High Commissioner on Sri Lanka: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/NewsSearch.aspx?CID=LK

Learn more about the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/HighCommissioner.aspx

Click here to visit OHCHR website: http://www.ohchr.org

For more information or interviews, please contact spokesperson Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or rcolville@ohchr.org) or press officer Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 or rshamdasani@ohchr.org)