Seventeen days ahead of the January 26 Presidential election, a fresh row has broken out between Sri Lanka and the United Nations (UN) after it was made known that the UN Secretary-General Ban ki-moon has conveyed to Colombo that he is considering appointing a Commission of Experts to advise him further and to assist the Sri Lankan Government in taking measures to address possible violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the last days of Eelam War IV (July 2006 to May 2009).
A report posted on the UN news centre web site said that UN spokesman Martin Nesirky made the remarks in response to questions from media on the statement made in New York by Philip Alston on Thursday. The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions told a news conference that there are strong indications that the video of alleged extrajudicial executions by Sri Lankan soldiers that aired last August on British television is authentic and called for an inquiry into possible war crimes committed during the war between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE.
Responding sharply to the reports, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is seeking a second term two years ahead of his tenure, told a group of officials at a meeting in Matara district that the UN has to inform the Sri Lankan Government before issuing statements since Sri Lanka is also a member of the world body and is an independent country.
The developments could impact the outcome of the forthcoming Presidential polls, in which the contest is mainly between Mr. Rajapaksa and the common Opposition Sri Lanka Presidential candidate, retired General Sarath Fonseka, as charges of `war crimes’ has been the recurring theme within and outside the island nation since the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009.
In a controversial interview to English weekly Sunday Leader on December 13 the commander turned politician had said brother of President and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had instructed a ground commander in the battle zone during the last phase of the Eelam War IV to shoot all LTTE leaders who came out to surrender to the military. But the next day, the General went back on his comments.
Gen. (retd.) Fonseka who got the backing of the post-Prabakaran Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in support of his candidature earlier this week on Friday got endorsement from unexpected quarters with the announcement by Batticaloa Mayor Sivageetha Prabakaran that she would vote and work for his victory. Ms. Prabakaran was a member of the break-away LTTE, Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) and a camp follower of the group founder Karuna.
`Col’ Karuna is currently a Minister in the Rajapaksa Government and is one of the Senior Vice-Presidents of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). The Batticoloa Mayor too joined the SLFP in the footsteps of `Col’ Karuna. He was not available for comment on the latest developments.
The fast paced developments in the run up to the Presidential poll has undoubtedly made it a tough fight for the incumbent President since both the chief contenders for the top office not only represent the majority Sinhalese community but are also credited for the successful military campaign against the Tamil Tigers. In the evolving scenario Tamil and Muslim voters could play a crucial role in the outcome of the election.
At the UN headquarters the world body spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters that the establishment of a commission of experts to advice Mr. Banki-Moon on Sri Lanka is currently receiving detailed consideration by the UN Secretariat.
Responding to questions on comments made on Thursday by the Special Rapporteur dealing with Sri Lanka, Philip Alston, and the Spokesperson said that the Technical Note presented by the Special Rapporteur highlights the need for a credible, independent and impartial investigation of the allegations of violations of human rights and international law by all sides in the conflict in Sri Lanka.
Separately at his news conference Mr. Alston maintained that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has repeatedly called for a full, broad, and impartial investigation into allegations of violations of human rights and international law by all sides that occurred during the civil war in Sri Lanka. “A full and impartial investigation into allegations of human rights violations is critical if we are to confront impunity and bring perpetrators of such violations to justice. The United Nations stands ready to assist the Government in this respect”.
In his response Mr. Rajapaksa noted that no UN official has the right to express their own views since Sri Lanka is an independent country. Official web site quoted him as saying, "We have confidence that our brave security personnel haven't been involved in any misconduct… Our Forces are among the best disciplined Forces in the world… As a result of Fonseka's statement our security officers are in danger. They could be taken into custody while they are abroad".
At another news conference here Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama charged that the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has flouted diplomatic norms by making public the findings of a 3 member panel probing the controversial Channel 4 video even before Sri Lanka could respond to the revelations.
“My Ministry has communicated in this regard both to the Special Rapporteur as well as to the UN Secretariat in New York that the Public Statement in New York is a violation of all the accepted procedures of the United Nations and the norms of justice and fair play”, Minister Bogollagama told media.
The Foreign Minister charged that the Special Rapporteur had ignored the very findings of his experts in an attempt to influence the elections in Sri Lanka. “Therefore Prof. Alston’s rush and determination to go public, ignoring procedure and the very opinions of the ‘experts’ must make us question whether he is targeting our country and deliberately timing his actions to coincide with the current sensitive phase of national elections,” the Minister said.