Sri Lanka says to cooperate with U.N. call for war crimes inquiry

United Nations Human Rights Council

Sri Lanka said on Thursday it would heed a U.N. resolution urging it to establish a credible judicial process, including foreign judges and prosecutors, to investigate alleged war crimes during its conflict with Tamil rebels that ended in 2009.

The United Nations Human Rights Council, composed of 47 member states, adopted the resolution brought by countries led by the United States and Britain by consensus, without a vote.

Government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels “most likely” committed war crimes including mass killings of civilians during a 26-year war and these should be prosecuted by a special court with international judges, the U.N. human rights office said in a landmark report last month.

The report, which underpinned the resolution, said that despite pledges by the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena to pursue perpetrators, the South Asian state’s criminal justice system was not up to the formidable task alone.

Sri Lankan Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha told the Geneva-based U.N. rights forum that his government would cooperate in implementing the resolution.

“Sri Lanka is pleased to join as a co-sponsor of this resolution as a further manifestation of (our) commitment to implement the provisions … in a manner that our objectives are shared by the people and all stakeholders in the country for their benefit,” Aryasinha said.

The text also calls for reforming Sri Lankan security organs and vetting the military to ensure that no personnel associated with serious crimes are retained or recruited into its ranks.

“This resolution could lead to a very strong process or a very, very weak process. It will all depend on how it is implemented,” said Fred Carver, head of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice lobby group.

Amnesty International said the resolution marked a turning point for victims of the conflict by offering them “the prospect of finally getting the truth and justice they deserve”.

The U.N. report cited a pattern of atrocities against civilians in the war, with years of denials and cover-ups, and said that tens of thousands may have been killed in the final stages of the conflict.

Silvia Cartwright, a former New Zealand high court judge who served on a U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Cambodia and advised the U.N. inquiry on Sri Lanka, said the inclusion of foreign jurists was indispensable to a credible investigation.

“The most important thing is to establish an institution, a court that is independent, that is guaranteed independence and let the lawyers and judges get on it with it,” Cartwright told a news conference. “Witness protection is absolutely vital.”