US asks Sri Lanka to probe war crime charges

Sri Lanka should take steps to "throughly investigate" what are "credible" claims of brutalities committed by the Sri Lankan Army and the rebels, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly has said.

Kelly, during his daily press briefing urged Sri Lankan Government to open up the area to international organisations to be able to come in and understand better the facts on the ground, what happened there.

"So that’s kind of the first step," Kelly said. "We are also calling on the Government of Sri Lanka to allow more access to international organisations," he said.

Mandated by the US Congress, the State Department on Thursday released a report which compiles alleged incidents that transpired in the final stages of the war, which may constitute violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) or crimes against humanity and related harms.

"And then we call on them to develop the kind of mechanisms that can investigate these many allegations, which are laid out in this report, and then ultimately, as appropriate, bring to justice those who are found guilty."

Noting that the Sri Lanka Government has said that they are determined to establish a reconciliation process with the people of the north, Kelly said the Obama administration strongly believes that the very important part of any reconciliation process is accountability, and this is what is being recommend in the report.

The 73-page report lays out some real concerns the US has about human rights violation and war crimes during the conflict period -- January to May. The report was presented to the US Congress on October 21 and released on Thursday.

Responding to a question, Kelly said the Sri Lankan Government was consulted quite closely on this report.

"We've explained to them the parameters of the report and also went into the kind of recommendations that we have.

"We have encouraged them privately as well to investigate the allegations thoroughly and set up this mechanism," he said.

"While the conflict lasted intermittently for 25 years, this report focuses on incidents that occurred from January 2009, when fighting intensified, through the end of May 2009, when Sri Lankan government forces defeated the LTTE.

It does not provide, nor is it intended to be, a comprehensive portrayal of the conflict," the report said. According to reports, on numerous occasions during the January to May 2009 reporting period the LTTE took both male and female children, some as young as 12, to join LTTE cadres.

The State Department said a number of sources alleged the Sri Lankan Government committed unlawful killings.

Multiple reports alleged that in the final few days of fighting, senior LTTE leaders contacted international representatives in an effort to broker a surrender but were killed after they allegedly reached a surrender agreement with Colombo.

According to reports, Sri Lankan forces abducted and in some instances then killed Tamil civilians, particularly children and young men.

"Sources reported that these individuals were taken to undisclosed locations without any further information being provided to relatives," it said.

"IDP checkpoints and camps were alleged to be particularly vulnerable areas, with a heavy military presence hindering the ability of international organisations to conduct protection monitoring and confidential IDP interviews," the report said.

While the State Department did not receive casualty estimates covering the entire reporting period from January to May 2009, however, one organisation, which did not differentiate between civilians and LTTE cadres,recorded 6,710 people killed and 15,102 people injured between January 20 to April 20.

"These numbers were presented with a caveat, supported by other sources, that the numbers actually killed and injured are probably higher," it said.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Watch called for an independent international investigation into these alleged crimes.

"The US State Department report should dispel any doubts that serious abuses were committed during the conflict’s final months," said Brad Adams,Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"Given Sri Lanka’s complete failure to investigate possible war crimes, the only hope for justice is an independent, international investigation," Adams said.

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