Saturday, November 22, 2014

U.N. Rights Chief Says Sri Lanka Is Obstructing War Crimes Inquiry

GENEVA — The United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, sharply rebuked the Sri Lankan government on Friday for “unacceptable conduct” for what he said were efforts to obstruct an investigation into possible war crimes in Sri Lanka.

The “continuing campaign of distortion and disinformation” as well as “insidious” attempts by the authorities to intimidate witnesses were an affront to the United Nations human rights body that had ordered the investigation, Mr. Zeid said. His strongly worded statement was the latest twist in a diplomatic struggle to conduct a credible investigation of events in 2009, at the end of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war with Tamil Tiger separatists. An earlier panel of experts appointed by the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, concluded that up to 40,000 civilians were killed, mainly as a result of deliberate artillery bombardment by the army.

The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva ordered the investigation in March after a series of inconclusive inquiries by the Sri Lankan authorities and in the face of fierce diplomatic resistance by the government to an external examination. Sri Lanka has since refused to cooperate with the investigation. In a statement circulated to diplomatic missions in Geneva, the Sri Lankan foreign minister, G. L. Peiris, complained that the investigation’s “flawed procedure infringed on the basic norms of justice and fair play.” Mr. Zeid, rejecting the criticisms as “false and unsubstantiated,” went on to berate the government’s efforts to block the investigation despite “persistent, compelling and widespread” allegations that serious international crimes were committed.

The Sri Lankan authorities had created a “wall of fear” through surveillance and harassment intended to deter people from submitting evidence, Mr. Zeid said, calling it “unacceptable conduct for any member state of the United Nations which has committed to uphold the U.N. Charter.” The government’s actions did not undermine the integrity of the investigation but instead raised “concerns about the integrity of the government in question,” Mr. Zeid said. “Why would governments with nothing to hide go to such extraordinary lengths to sabotage an impartial international investigation?”