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Sri Lankan Foreign Minister pledges special courts in six months

Photograph: Twitter @USIP

The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera pledged that his government would set up special courts to deal with violations of international humanitarian law committed during the final stages of the armed conflict within the coming six months, in a speech delivered in Washington on Thursday.

Speaking at the US Institute of Peace, Mr Samaraweera said his government has "committed to have a judicial process with international participation" in a recently passed UN Human Rights Council resolution.

"We will work the final contours and the architecture of such a court in the next five to six months after the consultations, with the TNA and other parties as well," said the foreign minister.

"Across the board there was a general agreement that there has to be special courts be set up in Sri Lanka if that process is to have any credibility at all," he said. "As I said before over the last 10 years the credibility of the judiciary was totally lost because of the politicisation of the process."

"I think it is only fair that the victims of the war would want some form of guarantee that the new courts will deliver justice and accountability in a fair manner and for that are willing to consider the participation of international actors," he added. "They could  be judges, they could be forensic experts, investigators, prosecutors. All these options are being looked at.

His comments come after Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena reiterated several times in recent months that no international involvement would be allowed in any accountability mechanism. "The president, as he has mentioned several times in public, has expressed his own opinion," said Mr Samaraweera. "We will look into all those options and come up with court that is not only credible but also acceptable to the victims of the war."

Speaking on the topic of demilitarisation of the Tamil North-East, Mr Samaraweera also said that this was a "priority" for his government. Gesturing to the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary who was in the audience - "the man in charge of the resettlement process" - Mr Samaraweera went on to add that over 3000 acres of land hand been released by the military.

"There is a further 600 acres to be released in the next few weeks," added Mr Samaraweera. "The balance land will also be subsequently released," he said.
"The conducting of commercial activities by the army in many of those areas have also now been curtailed," claimed the minister. "They have given us an assurance that even some of the hotels that the army is running in the North and East will be handed back to civilians by June this year," he stated.

He also claimed that the size of the Sri Lankan military had been reduced by 37% from 180,000 troops and "we will continue to do so - that is an assurance I can give you".

Mr Samaraweera also said his government was reviewing the Prevention of Terrorism Act, stating it "is now being revisited". Stating that a new draft legislation had been submitted "just four, five days ago" to his government, he added that "we are trying to make sure the PTA is being repealed as quickly as possible".

See the full video of the event below.

Also see our live Twitter coverage from Washington here.

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