Government War Panel Lacks Mandate, Credibility, Independence
October 14, 2010
There is little to be gained by appearing before such a fundamentally flawed commission. Accountability for war crimes in Sri Lanka demands an independent international investigation.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

(New York) - Three leading international organizations will not accept an invitation to testify before a Sri Lankan government commission because it lacks the ability to advance accountability for war crimes, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, and Amnesty International said in a joint letter to Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission that was released today.

The three organizations said that they would welcome an opportunity to appear before a genuine, credible effort to pursue political reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka, but that the Commission does not meet minimum international standards for commissions of inquiry.

"There is little to be gained by appearing before such a fundamentally flawed commission," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Accountability for war crimes in Sri Lanka demands an independent international investigation."

The Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, established the Commission in May 2010. His action was an apparent attempt to deflect calls for an international investigation into alleged laws-of-war violations during the final months of the quarter-century-long armed conflict between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended in May 2009.

The Commission suffers from an inadequate mandate, a lack of independence, and little credibility to advance accountability, the groups said in their letter. The Commission's mandate, which focuses on the breakdown of the 2002 ceasefire between the government and the LTTE, does not explicitly require it to investigate alleged war crimes during the conflict, nor has the Commission shown any apparent interest in investigating such allegations in its hearings to date.

The Commission also lacks independence, as its members include people who were senior government officials during the final years of the war and who were outspoken in defense of the government's wartime conduct. Other members worked for the Sri Lankan government in the past.

The organizations' letter also cited the absence of any provisions to protect witnesses who may wish to testify. The lack of witness protection is particularly crippling in the current environment in Sri Lanka, in which government officials contend that  anyone who alleges that government forces might have committed abuses are "traitors."

Moreover, despite the end of the conflict, the country is still operating under a state of emergency that criminalizes political speech and under which there has been no meaningful investigation of attacks on government critics. This undermines the Commission's ability to conduct credible investigations of alleged violations of international or national law, the organizations said.

"Thousands of civilians were killed in the last few months of the war as a result of grave violations of international law by both government and LTTE forces," Roth said. "This Commission is nothing more than a cynical attempt by Sri Lanka to avoid a serious inquiry that would bring genuine accountability."

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