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UN rights chief calls for Sri Lanka war crimes probe

The UN human rights chief on Sunday called for an international probe into alleged war crimes that occurred during the last phase of the 26-year Sri Lankan Civil War [CFR backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that ended in 2009. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] asked the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] to set up an independent probe to ensure accountability for atrocities committed during the war. Pillay forwarded the Sri Lankan government an advance copy of a 72-page report [Sunday Times report], accusing Sri Lanka of failing to investigate rights abuses and continuing to violate democratic freedoms. Along with a recommendation to establish an international inquiry mechanism to investigation alleged violations of international human rights, the report also recommends the criminalization of disappearances and prosecution of persons attacking minority communities. There was no immediate response from the Sri Lankan foreign ministry.

There has been mounting pressure on the Sri Lankan government to investigation and prosecute abuses during the conflict. Earlier this week, the main opposition party in Sri Lanka, the United National Party (UNP) [party website] demanded [JURIST report] the Sri Lankan government conduct an investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the Sri Lankan Civil War. The Sri Lankan government has been accused of deliberately shelling civilians, blocking food and medicine for civilians trapped in the war zone and deliberately undercounting civilians caught up in fighting. The Tamil rebels have been accused of using civilians as human shields, killing those who tried to escape their hold and recruiting child soldiers. According to a November 2012 UN report [text, PDF] an estimated 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final months of the conflict. Last week the Public Interest Advocacy Center (PIAC) [advocacy website], an Australian nonprofit legal advocacy group, released a report detailing possible war crimes [JURIST report] and crimes against humanity during the final months of the civil war. The reports findings will be incorporated into an upcoming meeting of the UN Human Rights Council sponsored by the US. Last month US ambassador Stephen Rapp called on [JURIST report] Sri Lanka to investigate rights abuses by security forces during the civil war. In November UK Prime Minister David Cameron demanded [JURIST report] that the Sri Lankan government conduct its own investigation into war crime allegations. In September Pillay called on [JURIST report] Sri Lanka to improve its human rights record.

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