Human rights groups decline to appear before Sri Lankan reconciliation commission

When Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris was at the United Nations last month, he challenged human rights groups to appear before a government-appointed ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC) probing human rights violations during the country’s civil war. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group have accused both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the rebel group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), of war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law – particularly during the final stages of the conflict last year.

The three groups declined Peiris’s invitation and instead called for “an international inquiry into the evidence of war crimes and other abuses during the civil war”. In a joint letter Thursday, the three rights organisations said they would not appear before the commission because “it did not meet international standards for independent and impartial inquiries”.

Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Asia- Pacific region, said her organisation would welcome the opportunity to appear before a “credible commission of inquiry aimed at securing accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka”.

“We believe effective domestic inquiries are essential to human rights protection and accountability. But the LLRC falls far short of what is required,” she added.

Amnesty’s Malhotra said the LLRC’s mandate, its composition, its procedures, and the human rights environment in which it is operating all conspire to make a safe and satisfactory outcome for victims of human rights violations and their families extremely unlikely.

She said Amnesty is particularly concerned about the lack of any provisions for witness protection and the fact that former officials who have publicly defended the Sri Lankan government against allegations of war crimes serve on the commission.

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