(New York) - Sri Lanka's new Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, to look into the armed conflict that ended last year, falls far short of minimum standards sought by the United States, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
On May 28, 2010, the Sri Lankan external affairs minister, G.L. Peiris, is scheduled to meet with Clinton. In the letter, Human Rights Watch urged Clinton to call for an independent international investigation into violations of the laws of war committed by both government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
"Sri Lanka has geared up its propaganda machine to dissuade the United States from supporting an international investigation," said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Clinton should not accept this blatant attempt to avoid accountability, but instead should endorse an international investigation."
On May 10, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, while welcoming Sri Lanka's intention to establish a commission on the war, listed several criteria that would need to be met for the commission to play a valuable role in advancing accountability for violations of international humanitarian law.
These criteria include independence, the impartiality and competence of the members, a proper mandate, adequate and effective protection for witnesses, adequate resources, and serious government consideration of the commission's recommendations.
The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which President Mahinda Rajapaksa established on May 15, falls far short of these criteria and is an inadequate response to the many serious allegations of wartime abuses, Human Rights Watch said in the letter.
In an interview today with the BBC Tamil service, Sri Lanka's ambassador to the United Nations, Palitha Kohona, defended the approach of the Sri Lankan government while dismissing calls for an international investigation.
In its letter, Human Rights Watch set out its concerns regarding the commission. The commission's mandate - focusing on the failure of the 2002 ceasefire - is very limited and does not explicitly allow an investigation into alleged violations of international law. In addition, the commission's chairman, Chitta Ranjan de Silva, has stated that proceedings will not be public, raising concerns that the findings and recommendations will also not be made public.
And there are concerns about whether the commission will be impartial and independent. Among them is the chairmanship of De Silva, a former attorney general who came under serious criticism for his office's alleged interference in the work of the country's 2006 Presidential Commission of Inquiry.
"Thousands of civilians were killed in just a couple of months last year as a result of grave violations of international law by both government forces and the Tamil Tigers," Pearson said. "By setting up a commission that won't investigate alleged crimes, Sri Lanka is publicly conceding that it has no intention of meeting its international obligations."