Sri Lanka's government pressed on rights abuses


A team of top legal luminaries told Sri Lanka's government on Tuesday to clean up its human rights record, saying an escalating war against Tamil Tiger rebels had brought with it grave abuses.

The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), comprising experts from several countries, the European Union and United Nations, said the government did not appear interested in taking action.

"The IIGEP has... found an absence of will on the part of the Government of Sri Lanka in the present inquiry to investigate cases with vigour, where the conduct of its own forces has been called into question," the panel said.

Their report also detailed reasons for their decision to pull out of Sri Lanka last month.

"The government is faced with an insurgency in which the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) conduct their hostilities through ruthless methods, not sparing the civilian population," it noted.

"Sections of popular opinion suggest that human rights and respect for the rule of law should take second place to measures necessary to repel these hostilities," the panel said. "The IIGEP rejects this opinion."

The group comprises experts from the countries of Australia, Britain, Canada, India, Japan, France, The Netherlands and the United States.

They said there should not be a conflict or incompatibility between the successful conduct of military and security operations on the one hand, and respect for civil liberties on the other.

"Indeed it should be emphasised that respect for human rights, and the conduct of military operations in strict accordance with international humanitarian law, are powerful weapons in the struggle against dissident forces and terrorism in that they help to earn the trust and support of the civilian population," the IIGEP report said.

The group asked the Sri Lankan government to ensure that senior officers were held responsible for the actions of lower ranks, set up a witness protection mechanism and end a culture of impunity for perpetrators.

The IIGEP was set up last year to supervise a presidential commission of inquiry into 16 cases of major human rights violations.

However, the IIGEP quit last month, saying there was no cooperation from the authorities and the effort was virtually a sham to deflect international criticism.

Among the cases being probed was the August 2006 massacre of 17 local aid staff working with a French charity in the island's northeast. The evidence in this case has pointed to the involvement of security forces and a state cover-up.

Colombo pulled out of a tattered 2002 truce with the Tamil Tiger rebels in January in the belief that it could crush the guerrillas and regain areas under rebel control. (AFP)