President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday directed a Commission of Inquiry appointed by him to probe the roles of Sri Lankan army and the rebel Tigers, during the nearly 30 year war, for alleged violation of international humanitarian law.
The announcement comes about three months after the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that calls for an international probe into Sri Lanka’s rights record. The Sri Lankan government has rejected the inquiry and said it would not offer any cooperation. In August 2013, President Rajapaksa appointed a commission to look into cases of disappearances after the brutal war that ended in 2009. The commission has been holding public hearings in many parts of the country, including the island’s Northern Province, and received over 15,000 complaints until January this year.
The President has now roped in three war crimes experts to advise the commission during the probe. British lawyers Desmond de Silva and Geoffrey Nice and U.S. law professor David Crane, on the advisory panel, are all former U.N. war crimes prosecutors.
The gazette notification, which announced the appointment of the international panel of experts, has also expanded the mandate of the commission to include a probe into alleged war crimes. Part of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC) initiative of the Sri Lankan government, the Commission has been asked to investigate and report on “the principal facts and circumstances that led to the loss of civilian life during the internal armed conflict that ended on the 19th May 2009.”
The Sri Lankan government has consistently termed its armed forces’ role a “humanitarian operation”, a position that Channel 4 documentaries challenged, drawing international attention to the issue.
President Rajapaksa has now asked the Commission to probe whether any person, group or institution directly or indirectly bears responsibility in this regard.
He has also asked the Commission to probe the LTTE’s role, over allegations of violation of international humanitarian law, the use of civilians as human shields, recruitment of child soldiers and sources of finances.