Sri Lanka minister meets U.N. chief, urges war crimes report delay

Mangala Samaraweera

Sri Lanka’s foreign minister met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, and U.N. diplomatic sources said he pressed his government’s desire to delay the release of a U.N. report on alleged war crimes during his country’s civil war.

In their meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Ban discussed “critical priorities for Sri Lanka, including especially human rights, accountability and reconciliation,” the United Nations press office said in a statement.

The U.N. readout of the meeting said nothing about Colombo’s desire for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to delay the March 25 release of the war crimes report.

Samaraweera said in Washington earlier this week that the situation at home was fragile and is therefore seeking to delay the scheduled release of the U.N. Human Rights Council report until “August … or so.”

He raised the issue behind closed doors with Ban on Friday, stressing the importance of a delay, U.N. diplomatic sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity. For his part Ban, the sources said, made clear this was an issue for Zeid, the Geneva-based U.N. human rights boss.

Diplomats said that Samaraweera has used his trip to the United States to persuade U.S. and U.N. officials of the importance of delaying the report.

The U.N. Human Rights Council voted last March to look into reports of abuses during the civil war that ended in 2009, saying the Sri Lankan government had failed to investigate properly.

The United Nations estimated in 2011 that about 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final weeks of the war, most of them by the army, according to an inquiry set up by Ban. The government of the majority Sinhalese country rejected that assertion.

Sri Lanka’s new government, which took power last month, says it is planning a new domestic inquiry that would bring in some foreign experts if necessary. It has also invited Zeid to visit to discuss the issue.

The issue of the war crimes report is expected to be discussed at a committee meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, when a decision could be taken.