Sri Lanka rejects UN inquiry into war crimes allegations

The Sri Lankan government has condemned a proposed UN inquiry into alleged war crimes at the end of the country's civil war in 2009.

(Transcript from World News Radio)

The UN's Human Rights Council has voted in favour of a Western-backed resolution calling for a comprehensive investigation into the allegations against both Sri Lankan government troops and Tamil Tiger separatist rebels.

Greg Dyett reports.

Sri Lanka says it's being unfairly targetted.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Sri Lankan government spokesman Mohan Samaranayake rejected the UN resolution.

"This is not about human rights. This is a politically-motivated, biased and unjust interference, infringement on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka."

The United States and Britain were among the countries which sponsored the resolution which focuses on the final months of the civil war which ended in 2009.

In 2011, the UN concluded that both the Sri Lankan military forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels they were fighting were likely to have committed war crimes against civilians.

A UN report said as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians may have been killed, mostly by government shelling in areas where civilians were sheltering.

Sri Lanka has consistently denied these allegations.

Its High Commissioner to Australia, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, says what took place has nothing to do with the rest of the world and the UN investigation is unnecessary.

"We had an internal conflict. We fought that internally. It's an internal matter. It has nothing to do with the rest of the world and we have investigated internally. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission has been held by a lot of people and we are finding certain wrongdoings and we are going to investigate and punish them. Already there have been some punishments, already delivered to some of the people who are found guilty so Sri Lanka is a democratic country. There is a rule of law applied. There is a judiciary working."

A total of 23 countries of the 47 member Human Rights Council voted in favour of the resolution.

UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay told Al Jazeera she's concerned that 12 countries voting against it, and 12 abstained.

"I'm disappointed that there were so many abstentions and 12 no votes. It's the Security Council, General Assembly and Human Rights Council that establishes commissions of inquiry. Nobody is targeting Sri Lanka here. Commissions of inquiry were appointed in respect of Palestine, in respect of Syria and more recently now the Central African Republic. The African Union established one for South Sudan. So these are the usual mechanisms employed by the international organisation, the United Nations and its various bodies for victims to get protection of human rights, to seek accountability and to ensure that victims get the justice that they are seeking."

Human rights groups in Australia are angry that Australia didn't co-sponsor the resolution.

But the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says she's not convinced a separate, internationally-led investigation, without the co-operation of the Sri Lankan government, is the best way forward.

Ms Bishop says engagement with Sri Lanka is the most effective way to encourage progress on human rights issues.

Gordon Weiss was the UN spokesman in Sri Lanka during the final stages of the civil war and is now a research professor at Griffith's University's Asia Institute.

Mr Weiss says Julie Bishop's comments about the importance of engagement are misguided.

"Well, it's ill informed and demonstrably wrong. Engagement with Sri Lanka and there have been dozens of countries that have tried to engage with Sri Lanka over two points to which it agreed at the end of the war. Those two points were coming up with a political reconciliation and coming up with accountability. Now, dozens of countries have tried to engage with Sri Lanka to absolutely no effect so there's no evidence to support that statement by the Foreign Minister that engagement with Sri Lanka will have any effect whatsoever."

Gordon Weiss says Australia's position effectively undermines the resolution.

"Australia, I think, was positively detrimental to the process but in the end 23 countries voted in favour and 12 abstained, Australia, if not directly, obliquely has aligned itself with countries like Cuba, Russia, China, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, all countries which have an appalling record on human rights."

A Tamil community group is also disappointed with the Australian government's position.

But Dr Sam Pari from the Australian Tamil Congress says she's confident there will eventually be a change of position on Australia's part.

"Through engagement and through advocacy work we have found that individuals within the Australian parliament when they do listen to the Tamil point of view and show them evidence of structural genocide taking place in Sri Lanka against the Tamil people, when we show evidence of abuses, of rape, of torture within detention that we are able to change their minds given that we base all our arguments on facts and figures and statistics and proof and so we hope that if this trend continues, the individual MPs and Senators will have an influence on the ministers."

The UN resolution also expresses serious concern at events still going on in Sri Lanka, including torture and disappearances.

Greens leader Christine Milne says she's appalled by Australia's position on events in Sri Lanka.

"It is very clear, there is a shocking human rights record in Sri Lanka. People are running to escape ongoing disappearances. There have been numerous reports the most recent outcome by the British Bar Association showing very clearly that the human rights abuses go on to this day and Australia is busy giving boats to try to turn back asylum seekers to a regime which is disappearing people."

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch