UN rights chief accuses Lanka of sabotaging war crimes probe

UN rights chief accuses Lanka of sabotaging war crimes probe

The UN rights chief has accused Sri Lanka of sabotaging a UN-mandated war crimes probe into the country's nearly three decades-long brutal civil, saying the refusal to cooperate with the investigation raises concerns about the integrity of the government.

"This continuing campaign of distortion and disinformation about the investigation, as well as the insidious attempts to prevent possible bona fide witnesses from submitting information to the investigating team, is an affront to the United Nations Human Rights Council which mandated the investigation," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

He criticised the continuing attacks by the government on the integrity of the UN Human Rights Office's ongoing investigation into the alleged grave human rights violations and abuses in Sri Lanka and condemned the intimidation of human rights defenders and individuals who may wish to cooperate with the investigation.

"The Government of Sri Lanka has refused point blank to cooperate with the investigation despite being explicitly requested by the Human Rights Council to do so," Zeid said.

"Such a refusal does not, however, undermine the integrity of an investigation set up by the Council –- instead it raises concerns about the integrity of the government in question. Why would governments with nothing to hide go to such extraordinary lengths to sabotage an impartial international investigation?" he said.

"Since the end of the conflict in 2009, Sri Lanka has continued to obstruct any independent investigation despite the persistent, compelling and widespread allegations that possible serious international crimes were committed by both sides during the conflict in Sri Lanka," Zeid said.

The Human Rights Council had adopted a resolution in March requesting the office of the high commissioner for human rights "to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka."

The Council also requested the High Commissioner to present a comprehensive report resulting from that investigation to its 28th session in March, 2015.

Sri Lanka dubs the UN investigation as one which impedes its sovereignty.

The UNHRC resolution had alleged war crimes blamed on both government troops and LTTE rebels during the final phase of the nearly three decades-long civil war.

The UN says 30,000 people were killed towards the end of the ethnic conflict in 2009 when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was finally crushed.  Zeid said the Sri Lankan government's attempts to deter and intimidate individuals from submitting evidence to a UN investigation team is unacceptable conduct for any member state and a "wall of fear" has undoubtedly served to deter people from submitting evidence.

Sri Lankan civil society organisations and human rights defenders have continued to be subjected to surveillance, harassment and other forms of intimidation, he said.

The High Commissioner also rejected this week's "false and unsubstantiated accusations by the Sri Lankan Government that the conduct of the investigation has been "unprofessional" and that its approach is "selective and biased."

He rejected as "absurd" the accusation that the investigation was compromised by the arrest of a man who was allegedly in possession of blank signed forms that would then be fraudulently filled in and submitted to the investigation.

"We don't accept anything at face value. UN human rights investigators are trained to spot fraudulent submissions. The process of analysis and corroboration of information and evidence is well defined, refined and codified on the basis of many years' experience," Zeid said.

He also rejected the assertion that the United Nations would ever provide monetary compensation in exchange for information.

The standard methodology for such investigations is based on ensuring the integrity of the process through the "application of the principles of independence, impartiality, objectivity and protection of witnesses," he said.

"On the issue of transparency, we will not be releasing information on the interviews we are conducting, or where, or when they take place," the High Commissioner said, emphasising that this is standard procedure for protecting sources especially where there is a clear risk of reprisals.

Zeid urged the Sri Lankan government to "focus on the substantive issues under investigation instead of obscuring them by the constant questioning of procedures which –- while not unimportant –- are not the heart of the matter."

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