The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution Thursday urging Sri Lanka to "credibly investigate" allegations of violations during the war against Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009.
The US-led resolution was adopted with 24 votes in favour, 15 against and eight abstentions.
“For the first time ever a formal international body has taken the government of Sri Lanka to task for refusing to deal with accountability issues,” Fred Carver, Campaign Director for the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, told RNW. “It’s not the end of the story, but it is a really good start.”
“It is ridiculous they passed this resolution,” says Ambassador Buddhi Athauda, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the Netherlands. “I don’t see why the international community needs to tell Sri Lanka what to do. We’re a democracy.”
Tabling the resolution, the United States said Colombo had been given three years to hold its own investigations into allegations of serious violations, but "given the lack of action... it is appropriate" that the 47-member state council pushed it to do so.
"An enduring peace will be unsustainable without meaningful steps to foster national reconciliation and accountability," said US envoy Eileen Donahoe.
"It is a resolution that encourages Sri Lanka to ... make concerted efforts at achieving the kind of meaningful accountability upon which lasting reconciliation efforts can be built."
Unlike in the immediate aftermath of the conflict when it staved off a similar resolution at the Human Rights Council, Colombo was unable this time to lobby sufficient support to defeat the Western-led move.
According to Carver, Thursday’s vote “negates the 2009 resolution passed by the Human Rights Council saying there is nothing to visit here. Now they are saying there is something to address.”
Sri Lanka’s ally India was among countries voting in favour of the resolution.
Earlier in the day, Sri Lankan ruling party MPs demonstrated in front of the national assembly, as thousands of supporters of President Mahinda Rajapakse staged rallies elsewhere in Sri Lanka to protest against the US-backed resolution.
The protesters and the government say that any new investigation would damage post-war ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil communities.
Sri Lanka's government has consistently denied allegations that it targeted civilians, though it has acknowledged that some were killed as troops advanced north.
But rights groups have said that up to 40,000 civilians were killed by Sri Lankan troops in the final offensive against the separatist Tamil Tigers (LTTE), who have been accused of using non-combatants as human shields during Colombo's military campaign that wiped out the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009.
(with AFP, Reuters)