Sri Lanka war crimes commission begins public hearings

[JURIST] A Sri Lankan government-backed commission investigating the events surrounding the island nation's civil war [JURIST news archive] opened [press release] its first public hearings on Wednesday. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), appointed [press release] in May by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official profile], has been criticized [HRW release] as a superficial attempt to stave off an international investigation into accusations of widespread and severe human rights abuses by government forces during the war. Critics claim that the commission lacks adequate checks to ensure impartiality and has no mandate to investigate the reported deaths and disappearances of thousands of civilians during the conflict. Also Wednesday, the US State Department (DOS) released a report [text] assessing the Sri Lankan government's response to international calls for an investigation. The report states that a first investigation "did not appear to investigate allegations or to make any recommendations pursuant to its mandate," and called into question the composition of the LLRC:

[There are] questions concerning the independence and impartiality of some members of the commission, including the former Attorney General who served in that capacity in the 2006 Col and is now the chair of the new LLRC. His relationship to the government and his involvement in the failure of the previous commission, which also sought to investigate incidents of alleged government involvement in violations by security forces, could compromise the independence and impartiality of the LLRC.
The report indicated that the DOS would "continue to evaluate whether the commission is acting consistent with ... [the] best practices," judging its effectiveness on criteria such as independence and competence of members, adequate mandate and authority to investigate, the capacity to protect witnesses, adequacy of the commission's resources, the presence of a public report and the degree to which the government responds to the commission's recommendations.

International pressure on Sri Lanka to conduct a thorough investigation into the civil war continues to mount. In July, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called on the Sri Lankan Government [press release; JURIST report] to improve conditions around UN offices in Colombo after a UN announcement [press release; JURIST report] of the formation of an international panel to investigate human rights abuses during the war resulted in days of pro-government protests [JURIST report] near UN offices. Sri Lanka has faced numerous allegations of human rights violations originating from incidents that took place during the final months of the 30-year civil war. In May, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] announced it had acquired new evidence [JURIST report] supporting allegations of war crimes. Also in May, the International Crisis Group [official website] accused Sri Lankan security forces of war crimes [JURIST report], claiming that the violence of the war escalated in January 2009, leaving thousands more dead than projected by the UN.

 

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