GENEVA: The United Nations Human Rights Council has endorsed a US-sponsored resolution calling on Sri Lanka to investigate alleged human-rights violations and war crimes during its 26-year civil war.
A UN panel in April 2011 accused Sri Lanka's military and Tamil Tiger rebels of committing serious violations of international law in the final stages of the conflict, resulting in as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Sri Lanka denies the charges and says the calls for an investigation amount to interference.
The resolution urges Sri Lanka's government to investigate reports that its troops slaughtered civilians in the weeks before Tamil guerrillas were crushed in May 2009. The US proposal initially called for an international inquiry, but the resolution approved in Geneva in a 25-13 vote with eight abstentions instead urges the government to set up a mechanism for a credible, independent investigation and to take action to guarantee justice and reconciliation in the country.
The approved resolution was watered down at the insistence of India, according to G. Ananthapadmanabhan, who heads the Indian chapter of Amnesty International.
"The revised US draft resolution is much softer in the context of the overwhelming volume of new evidence that has been unearthed" since the 2012 council resolution, he said in a statement. "There is a significant downgrading of the international community's concerns regarding human-rights violations in Sri Lanka."
Indian Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram denied his government had worked to weaken the resolution, which previously "urged" Sri Lanka to take action and now "encourages" it to act. An assertion that the Sri Lankan government had broken its own pledges on political devolution to Tamil areas was also deleted from the document.
The government should "take all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability, including investigations of violations of international law, and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans", the resolution said.
The alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka have threatened the stability of the coalition government in India.
The ethnic Tamil Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party, the former largest ally of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, withdrew from the coalition on March 19 over policy towards alleged war atrocities in Sri Lanka and on Thursday ruled out reconciliation, leaving the premier as many as 44 seats short of the halfway mark in the lower house of parliament.
The UN's top human-rights official, Navi Pillay, called last month for an international inquiry into rights abuses and wartime atrocities in Sri Lanka. Her deputy, Kang Kyung-wha, said on Thursday in Geneva that the island nation had made only "selective, piecemeal commitments" rather than "adopting a comprehensive policy on accountability and reconciliation."
Sri Lanka Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris condemned the resolution, which was also sponsored by European Union nations including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Britain, as well as Canada. Sri Lanka dismissed a similar resolution in March 2012 that passed 24-15 with eight abstentions.
"Drawing disproportionate attention to Sri Lanka's situation and introducing a resolution that seeks to discredit, single out and humiliate the country are unhelpful and counterproductive to Sri Lanka's current reconciliation process," Mr Peiris wrote in a communique to other members of the rights council before the vote.
The revised US draft resolution is much softer in the context of the overwhelming volume of new evidence that has been unearthed.G. Ananthapadmanabhan, Amnesty International India
Amnesty International's Sri Lanka campaigner, Yolanda Foster, said council approval of the resolution was a "positive development", but missing the chance to create an international inquiry into the war and alleged crimes was "regrettable".
"It is clear that the Sri Lankan government is unwilling and unable to investigate these events itself, so an international probe is the only way to obtain the truth and justice necessary for genuine reconciliation," she said in an emailed statement from London.