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Sri Lanka: Human Rights Council Should Ensure Accountability

Oral Statement at the 17th Session of the Human Rights Council - June 6th, 2011

Human Rights Watch is concerned about the failure of the Sri Lankan government to investigate well-founded allegations of very serious abuses that took place during the last months of its decades-long internal armed conflict, which ended in May 2009.

A report released by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in April concluded that both government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam conducted military operations "with flagrant disregard for the protection, rights, welfare and lives of civilians and failed to respect the norms of international law." It concluded that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the war's final months, but that the government's efforts since then have fallen "dramatically short" of international standards and failed to satisfy Sri Lanka's obligations under international law.

This report and all its recommendations should be seriously considered. It is a careful and professional study written by three internationally recognized experts. Last week, Chris Heyns, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, reported to this council that war crimes had been committed during the final months of the war. Four independent experts concluded that a horrific video allegedly showing government soldiers executing prisoners in cold blood is authentic. Significantly, the government itself had reported that its forces killed one of the dead women in the video, directly implicating its 53rdDivision in the executions.

Among the report's recommendations is the call to create an independent international mechanism to conduct investigations into alleged violations by both sides. Regrettably, the Sri Lankan government has dismissed the report with a blanket denial. Instead of investigating the allegations, it has accused the Panel of Experts of bias. With regards to the execution video, just one alleged atrocity of many reported, the government has yet to launch a criminal investigation almost two years after the video was first brought to its attention.

Mr. President, with the creation of the Panel of Experts and the release of its report, the Secretary-General demonstrated a commendable commitment to seeking accountability for numerous serious abuses that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, "fully support[s] the recommendation" of the panel to establish an independent international mechanism, and invited the Council to reflect on the new information contained in the report. Special Rapporteur Heyns also called for an international investigation. It is time for the Human Rights Council to take steps to ensure accountability for crimes committed by both sides during Sri Lanka's armed conflict.

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