Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Photo Reuters
The United Nations has launched an inquiry into war
crimes allegedly committed by both Sri Lankan state forces and
Tamil rebels during the conflict that ended in 2009, saying the
government had failed to investigate properly.
"The international community has become increasingly
concerned by the continued lack of progress in achieving
reconciliation, justice and accountability for serious
allegations of violations of international human rights law
and international humanitarian law," Paula Schriefer, U.S.
deputy assistant secretary of state, told the UN Human Rights
Sri Lanka, which rejected the resolution, has been under
international pressure to deal with war crimes allegedly
committed in the final stage of the 26-year conflict, when
the army defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.
Sri Lanka's ambassador, Ravinatha Aryasinha, told the talks
on Thursday the island nation had made tangible progress in
addressing accountability. He said parallel processes would
"Sri Lanka categorically and unreservedly rejects this draft
resolution as it challenges the sovereignty and independence
of a member state of the U.N ... and is inimical to the
interests of the people of Sri Lanka," he said in a speech
before the vote.
But Britain's ambassador Karen Pearce said: "This is not
about needing more time. It is about the government not
showing the political will to back a transparent, thorough
and credible investigation that delivers truth to those who
The head of Sri Lanka's human rights council said the
inquiry's eventual report could lead to sanctions on the
country imposed by the UN Security Council, including a
freeze of bank accounts and bans on travel by Sri Lankan
"That is where the problem will start," said Prathiba
Mahanama. "But we still have an opportunity to do things in a
way to prevent a report reaching the Security Council."
A total of 23 states voted in favour, 12 against and 12
abstained. States that voted against included China and
Pakistan, while Sri Lanka's neighbour, India, abstained.
"JUSTICE CANNOT WAIT"
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the vote "sends a
clear message: The time to pursue lasting peace and
prosperity is now; justice and accountability cannot wait".
"We are deeply concerned by recent actions against some of
Sri Lanka's citizens, including detentions and harassment of
civil society activists. Further reprisals against these
brave defenders of human rights and the dignity of all Sri
Lankan citizens would elicit grave concern from the
international community," Kerry said in a statement.
The investigation will be led by the office of UN human
rights chief Navi Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge.
Amnesty International said the inquiry would bring hope for
thousands of victims of abuses in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa told a gathering on
Wednesday the West and the United Nations were talking about
false allegations, and had failed to take similar action when
the separatist Tamil Tigers had attacked people and religious
Rajapaksa was speaking in southern Sri Lanka among the
country's Buddhist majority at a campaign event for local
polls on Saturday.
Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, leader of the Tamil National
Alliance, the main Tamil party, thanked the countries that
supported the text.
"We appeal to the government of Sri Lanka to extend their
fullest cooperation to ensure the implementation of the
resolution ... for genuine reconciliation and (to) achieve
permanent peace in this country," he said.