Sri Lankan state forces and Tamil Tiger rebels “most likely” committed war crimes including mass killings of civilians during their conflict that should be prosecuted by a special court with international judges, the United Nations said.
Despite pledges by the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena to prosecute perpetrators, the criminal justice system was not up to the huge task alone, said the long-delayed report by the UN human rights office.
It called on Colombo to remove from office military and security personnel and any other officials “where there are reasonable grounds to believe that they were involved in human rights violations” in the 26-year war that ended in 2009.
The report named no suspects, saying it was a “human rights investigation, not a criminal investigation” and that individual prosecutions should be left for the new court.
“We hope ... that the security services will understand there must be a sort of reckoning with the past and there must be accountability,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein told reporters.
The inquiry documented “the years of denials and cover-ups, the failure to carry out prompt investigations, stalled investigations and reprisals against the family members of victims and others who have advocated for justice,” Zeid said.
Sri Lanka promised to deliver justice after the UN report was issued, but the Foreign Ministry statement stopped short of directly addressing the UN’s proposal to set up a special court.
On Monday it said it was setting up a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission to look into atrocities.
The UN report, delayed from March to give the new government time to address concerns, found “patterns of grave violations” between 2002 and 2011.
It said Sri Lanka should set up a “hybrid special court integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators” to try war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by both sides.
Government security forces were implicated in “unlawful killings carried out in a widespread manner against civilians” including ethnic minority Tamil politicians, aid workers and journalists, it said.
They allegedly executed LTTE (Tamil Tiger) cadres on May 18, 2009, “some of whom were known to have surrendered”.
The report said the security forces used torture and rape, especially when former LTTE members and civilians were detained after fighting ended.
“Not a single perpetrator of sexual violence related to the armed conflict is so far known to have been convicted.”
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