The Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs [official website] announced Saturday that a UN war crimes panel will be allowed to visit [press release] the island to look into alleged war crimes in the final stages of the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [JURIST news archive]. The decision represents a reversal after months of strong opposition [JURIST report] from the Sri Lankan government under President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official profile], who described the UN panel as an infringement of Sri Lanka's sovereignty. Instead, Rajapaksa appointed the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to investigate the final years of the conflict from the ceasefire in 2002 to its conclusion in 2009. The LLRC's credibility, however, has been contested by several human rights organizations, which say the commission lacks objectivity [PTI report]. The change in position follows economic sanctions including the withdrawal of trade concessions worth $150 million per year with the EU. The government has repeatedly denied accusations that its forces violated international law during the conflict. Skeptics have already questioned whether the UN panelists will be given free access to investigate. The three-person panel, appointed [JURIST report] by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile], has not set a date to travel to Sri Lanka.
In October, the Sri Lankan government defended the LLRC [JURIST report] after international human rights groups Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI) and the International Crisis Group (ICG) [advocacy websites] publicly declined an invitation [joint letter; JURIST report] to testify, stating that they would welcome the opportunity to appear before the commission if they felt it was a genuine and credible effort to pursue accountability and reconciliation. The LLRC began public hearings [JURIST report] in August with an appearance by Sri Lanka Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa [official profile], who defended the actions of the government [JURIST report] during the conflict. The LLRC was appointed [press release] in May amid repeated claims of war crimes by human rights groups after president Rajapksha initially rejected the UN panel [JURIST reports] in March.