Sunday, October 25, 2009

US war crimes report adds to pressure on Sri Lanka

MATT WADE - Thousands of Tamil refugees held in camps since May have been released amid growing international pressure on the Sri Lankan Government over its human rights record.

About 5700 refugees left the huge camp at Menik Farm, in the country's north, on Thursday to be resettled, the Government said. A further 36,000 were due to leave the camps and be resettled "over the coming weeks''.

The Government's final victory over the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, and its subsequent treatment of Tamil refugees, has been under intense international scrutiny, with government forces and the rebels accused of indiscriminate shelling of civilians.

On Thursday, the US State Department released a report of possible war crimes committed during the final months of the civil war, citing actions by government forces and the Tigers between January and May 2009.

Internal US embassy reports from Colombo, satellite images and information from relief agencies and media were used to compile the report. The report included harm to civilians caught up in conflict, killing of captured combatants and disappearances "which may constitute violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against humanity and related harms".

The Government has vehemently rejected the report, saying the allegations against it were "unsubstantiated and devoid of corroborative evidence".

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that vested interests wanted to "fan the flames of secessionism" and undermine the Government's rehabilitation and reconciliation efforts.

The US State Department's ambassador at large for war crimes issues, Stephen Rapp, told The Washington Post: ''We are calling on the Government, as part of the reconciliation process, to develop an accountability process …''

Sri Lankan authorities insisted they could conduct a credible internal investigation into alleged abuses, Mr Rapp said. ''We are going to take them at their word and follow that process.''

The 68-page US report does not reach a conclusion on whether the incidents add up to violations of international law.

''We wanted to lay out all of these credible allegations of human rights violations,'' a US State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, said in Washington. ''The report doesn't attempt to verify all the claims, but we believe that the claims, which are based mostly on reporting, are credible.''

In New York, Human Rights Watch said the report showed the need for an independent international investigation.

"The US State Department report should dispel any doubts that serious abuses were committed during the conflict's final months," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Given Sri Lanka's failure to investigate possible war crimes, the only hope for justice is an independent, international investigation."

Since the end of the bloody civil war in May, more than 250,000 mostly Tamil refugees have been held in the guarded camps, mostly at Menik Farm, near the town of Vavuniya.

The Government has been criticised for slow progress in resettling the displaced people and for restricting their movement for so long. Before Thursday only about 15,000 people had been released from the camp.

© Sydney Morning Herald

Related Links:
Reports Press Sri Lanka on Possible War Atrocities - The New York Times
US: 170 alleged ‘war crimes’ between May 2 and 18 - Sunday Times

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