Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Alston questions Sri Lanka's stand

By Jamila Najmuddin - The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Philip Alston has accused the Sri Lankan government of double standards for rejecting an international investigation over alleged war crimes in the island but backing a similar probe on Israel.

In an email interview with Daily Mirror online, Alston said that the mandate given to the local Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the commissioners appointed fall short of being independent and impartial.

“It is also interesting to contrast the Government’s insistence in the UN Human Rights Council that it should be left entirely alone to conduct its own inquiry, with its strong support for an international investigation into Israel’s killing of nine people in the raid on the Gaza flotilla carrying humanitarian aid. Sri Lanka apparently feels so strongly that international measures are needed in relation to Israel that its ambassador to the UN in New York is the Chairman of the so-called Group of Three currently carrying out an international investigation into Israel’s activities. I believe there are strong grounds for international action in both cases,” Alston told Daily Mirror online.

The UN envoy, who had authenticated a recording shown on UK’s Channel 4 TV allegedly of troops killing unarmed LTTE cadres during the war, said Sri Lanka’s capacity to heal and forge a unified national identity which embraces all of its different ethnic groups will require a genuine examination of the past sooner or later.

“Well, first of all, the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation has not, as you suggest, been appointed to look into alleged war crimes. As an article on the website of the Ministry of Defence summarizes its purpose, it is “to find out the root causes of the terrorist problem”. There is not a single mention of “human rights”, “humanitarian law”, “violations”, “war crimes”, or any comparable term. The mandate accorded by the Government very carefully avoids any of these issues. Instead, the President has indicated that the Commission should look forward, which is generally a way of saying that past violations should be ignored. Consistent with this he has spoken of restorative justice designed to further strengthen national amity, which is another way of making the same point. Even if the mandate were to be changed, the question would then be whether the commission meets international standards for a credible inquiry into alleged human rights violations,” he said.

Alston noted that Sri Lanka has an unparalleled track record of ineffectual commissions of inquiry of this kind and it is precisely because such inquiries have been utterly unconvincing that they have not succeeded in drawing a line under the contentious issues of the past that need to be addressed before they can be transcended.

© Daily Mirror

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