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Sri Lanka to initiate new war crimes investigation

[JURIST] The newly elected government in Sri Lanka announced Wednesday that it is planning to investigate accusations of human rights abuses during the closing stages of the 26-year civil war, after former president Mahinda Rajapaksa [BBC profile] refused to cooperate with UN investigators about claims of atrocities committed by the army in 2009. The UN began its investigation in 2014 [text, PDF] but accused Rajapaska of interfering by preventing witnesses from giving testimony in March. A UN report [text, PDF] in 2010 estimated tens of thousands of Sri Lankans and ethnic Tamils were killed during the final weeks of the war by the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [CFR backgrounder]. Sri Lanka denies the UN's findings. President Maithripala Sirisena promised a new inquiry [Reuters report] under an independent judiciary, claiming the government will seek help from foreign experts if they need it.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein [official profile] criticized the Sri Lankan government in November [JURIST report] for its continued attacks on the integrity if its investigation into serious human rights violations. Zeid accused the government of attempting to discredit the UN's efforts as well as hindering possible credible witnesses from submitting information to the investigative team by creating a "wall of fear" perpetuated by the government's "surveillance, harassment and other forms of intimidation" against human rights defenders. The UN implored the Sri Lankan government to engage with the investigation in order to address the central issue of human rights violations.

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