[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI) and the International Crisis Group (ICG) [advocacy websites], on Thursday declined [joint letter] an invitation from Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to testify before the probe investigating the end of the nation’s civil war [JURIST new archive]. In rejecting the LLRC’s invitation the groups stated:
While we would welcome the opportunity to appear before a genuine, credible effort to pursue accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, the LLRC falls far short of such an effort. It not only fails to meet basic international standards for independent and impartial inquiries, but it is proceeding against a backdrop of government failure to address impunity and continuing human rights abuses.
The groups went on to state that the LLRC’s mandate, composition and procedures and the nation’s human rights environment make it impossible to carry out a free and independent inquiry into war crimes. AI is particularly concerned [AFP report] about the suitability of a number of former officials serving on the commission who have defended Sri Lanka against war crimes accusations, and the lack of witness protection provisions. In the recent past, the advocacy groups have accused [JURIST report; JURIST report] Sri Lanka of carrying out various human rights violations during the final months of the 30-year civil war.
In August, Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa [official profile] appeared before a government-backed commission and defended [JURIST report] the actions of the government during the conflict with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive]. The LLRC has been criticized [HRW press release] as a superficial attempt to stave off an international investigation into accusations of widespread and severe human rights abuses by government forces during the war. Gotabaya Rajapaksa appeared before the commission and stated that the government took every effort to avoid civilian casualties. He also indicated that a major focus of the military campaign was providing humanitarian relief to regions of the country that had been under LTTE control. According to the secretary, the military risked higher casualties in order to allow humanitarian convoys into regions where fighting between the military and LTTE was heavy. Gotabaya Rajapaksa also argued that the UN and the international community were to blame for civilian casualties because they failed to ensure that the LTTE released civilians under their control. International pressure on Sri Lanka to conduct a thorough investigation into the civil war continues to mount, despite the government-backed commission.