(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should act on the recommendations in a report commissioned by the UN Secretary-General detailing grave abuses during the final months of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said today. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent the report to the council on September 12, 2011. Ban has said that he would welcome a mandate to establish an international investigation mechanism, the main recommendation of his Panel of Experts report.

In May 2010, Ban commissioned a three-member Panel of Experts to advise him on accountability in Sri Lanka after President Mahinda Rajapaksa failed to investigate alleged laws-of-war violations during the conflict, which ended in 2009. The panel's report, published on April 25, concluded that government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) conducted military operations “with flagrant disregard for the protection, rights, welfare and lives of civilians and failed to respect the norms of international law.” The report also said that tens of thousands of civilians might have been killed during the last five months of the war, the majority by government shelling.

“When a UN Panel of Experts report concludes up to 40,000 civilians died amid war crimes, the Human Rights Council should feel compelled to act,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The council should order a full international investigation – anything less would be a shameful abdication of responsibility.”

The Panel of Experts examined “reports, documents and other written accounts” by UN and inter-governmental organizations, nongovernmental groups and journalists and experts on Sri Lanka,” as well as satellite imagery, photographs, and video materials. It reviewed submissions received in response to requests on the UN website, and consulted individuals with expertise or experience related to the armed conflict. The panel included allegations as credible “when based on primary sources that the Panel deemed relevant and trustworthy. These primary sources were corroborated by other kinds of information, both direct and indirect.”

The panel recommended that Sri Lanka conduct genuine investigations into the allegations alongside the international investigation, but it also found that “Sri Lanka’s efforts, nearly two years after the end of the war, fall dramatically short of international standards on accountability and fail to satisfy either the joint commitment of the President of Sri Lanka and the Secretary-General, or Sri Lanka’s legal duties.”

Instead of responding to the report seriously, the Sri Lankan government launched an aggressive public relations offensive against both the report and panel. The government’s official news portal stated that it “strongly rejected” the report, calling it “illegal,” as well as “biased, baseless and unilateral.”

“The Sri Lankan government has stone-walled allegations of abuse for more than two years, making ridiculous claims about global conspiracies and faked evidence,” Adams said. “The Human Rights Council should tell the government that time is running out. If the Sri Lankan government won’t provide justice for victims, the international community will.”