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Twenty years mandates international commission - Amnesty

An independent international commission must be set up to investigate human rights violations in Sri Lanka over the last 20 years, as successive governments have failed to account for abuses such as torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings during its civil war, Amnesty International said.

 

According to a report published by the London-based human rights group, serious human rights violations have been occurring in the Indian OceanIsland for many years.

 

"As the Sri Lankan people contend with the most recent abuses committed by both sides of the recent conflict, particularly during the last few months of the fighting, the reality is that they have been haunted by injustice and impunity for years," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Director.

 

The report titled "Twenty Years of Make-Believe: Sri Lanka's Commissions of Inquiry" said that over the last 20 years, there have been assassinations of public figures, killings of aid workers and other civilians, and enforced disappearances.

 

It cited various examples of violations including the massacre of 17 aid workers from Action Contre la Faim (ACF) in the town of Muttur in 2006. Fifteen bodies were discovered lying face-down on the front lawn of the charity's office, with bullet wounds to head and neck, indicating that they have been shot at close range, execution style. Two more staff members were found in a car nearby, possibly trying to escape.

 

The report also mentions the case of a lawyer tortured to death in police custody as well as the mass "disappearance" of 159 people from a camp for displaced people.

 

Ad hoc commissions of inquiry established by the government over the last two decades have lacked any real credibility and delayed criminal investigations, said the study.

 

Authorities had failed to protect victims and witnesses, said Amnesty, adding that state agents had even intervened directly in some cases to eliminate witnesses through bribes, threats, harassment, intimidation and violence, including murder, to discourage police investigations.

 

The study added that the country's "glacially slow" criminal justice system - which is subjected to political pressure - is so degraded that the vast majority of human rights violations over the past 20 years have never been investigated, let alone heard in court.

 

"The Sri Lankan authorities have had little success in providing accountability for abuses against civilians committed by the LTTE; they are even less likely to effectively investigate and prosecute their own forces for violations of human rights and humanitarian law," said Zarifi.

 

"Given the scale of the problem of impunity in Sri Lanka, accountability can only be achieved with the active commitment of the Sri Lankan government, supported by systematic and sustained international human rights monitoring and technical assistance."

However, Sri Lanka has repeatedly resisted calls for international scrutiny, on the basis that it would jeopardize the country's sovereignty.

 

"These things take time, and we can't allow any possibility of injustice to happen," Rajiva Wijesinha, secretary at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights said in Colombo.

 

The government's own commission into allegations of human rights abuses is proceeding, albeit slowly, he added.

 

All rights groups have been particularly critical of the last months of the war, where they say both the government and Tigers showed a wanton disregard for human life with between 10,000 and 20,000 people killed during this period alone.

 

The military has been accused of continuously using heavy artillery to shell a tiny strip of land where Tigers were trapped along with hundreds of thousands of civilians, while the LTTE were accused of holding civilians hostage and using them as human shields. Both parties have rejected the charges.

 

However, the government remains under pressure to recognize calls both domestically and internationally for accountability and transparency, with the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying earlier this month that any credible accusation of human rights violations should be investigated.

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