Sri Lanka on Wednesday took serious exception to the appointment of a three-member panel of experts by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to advice him on “accountability issues” relating to alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict between Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE that ended in May last year.
The subject has been a major bone of contention between the U.N. and Sri Lanka for several weeks now. Colombo has termed the panel of experts as “unwarranted and unnecessary interference” with a sovereign nation.
In a statement issued here the Foreign Office maintained that the panel of experts, which has been mandated to complete its job within four months time, has potential for exploitation by vested interests hostile to the process of reconciliation taking place in Sri Lanka.
A spokesperson of the U.N. Secretary-General said in New York that the three-member panel would advise Mr. Ban on implementing the commitment on human rights accountability made in the Joint Statement issued by the Secretary-General and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa after the U.N. chief visited the island country in May 2009.
Indonesia's Marzuki Darusman will serve as the chair of the expert panel and the other two members are Yasmin Sooka of South Africa and Steven Ratner of the United States.
The experts will examine “the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes, taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka,” according to a statement issued by Mr. Ban's spokesperson.
“It will be available as a resource to Sri Lankan authorities should they wish to avail themselves of its expertise in implementing the commitment. In the conduct of its mandate, the panel hopes to cooperate with concerned officials in Sri Lanka,” it added.
It said that Mr. Ban “remains convinced that accountability is an essential foundation for durable peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Through the panel the Secretary-General expects to enable the U.N. to make a constructive contribution in this regard.”
Last week, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe visited Sri Lanka and held talks with Mr. Rajapaksa, senior government officials, opposition leaders and representatives of the Tamil and Muslim communities and civil society groups. He also visited conflict-affected areas where IDPs are being resettled.
Mr. Pascoe said that political solutions that tackle the underlying grievances which fuelled the conflict are necessary to heal the wounds left by the civil war.
Sri Lanka Foreign Office argued that the joint statement by Mr. Rajapaksa and Mr. Ban made no reference to “allegations of violations of international humanitarian law committed during military operations between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)”.
It said that Sri Lanka is a sovereign state with a robustly independent judiciary and a tried and tested system for the administration of justice and the government had consistently promoted and protected human rights.
“Indeed, this has been explicitly acknowledged by legitimate organs of the United Nations system. The Human Rights Council of the United Nations has formally adopted, after the cessation of the conflict situation, a resolution commending, inter alia, the commitment of Sri Lanka to the promotion and protection of human rights.”
The Foreign Office referred to the appointment by Mr. Rajapaksa last month of a eight-member Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation under the Commissions of Inquiry Act to look into the process of rebuilding the lives of the people of the island nation and said that the government was confident that the Commission would make a most significant contribution to the further strengthening of national amity, through a process of restorative justice.