by Keith Locke
It’s pleasing to see Foreign Minister Murray McCully has responded positively to my Parliamentary Question asking if he would support the call by a UN Secretary General’s Panel calling for an independent international investigation into credible allegations of human rights violations during the Sri Lankan civil war, “some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Murray McCully replied that if “the Sri Lankan government is unable to address the concerns detailed in the Panel’s report. I am certain that the international community, including New Zealand, will be open to considering appropriate international investigative mechanisms to bring justice and accountability to the victims of the Sri Lankan war.”
The “international community” should get moving now, because the Sri Lankan government has already dismissed the report out of hand. It is embarrassed that the Panel blames the Sri Lankan army for most of the “tens of thousands” of deaths in the last months of the war. The Sri Lankan army encouraged Tamil civilians to move into “no-fire zones” and then shelled and bombed them. The Panel also condemns the government for shelling hospitals, blocking humanitarian assistance, and violating the rights of Internally Displaced Persons, LTTE cadres, the media, and critics of government policy. The Tamil Tigers were also condemned for preventing civilians from escaping the conflict zone, and suicide attacks which killed civilians.
Getting a full international investigation won’t be easy, because countries like China will try to block any further UN action. The European Parliament’s compromise resolution makes some good points but essentially leaves it up to the Sri Lankan government to investigate further and implement the Panel’s recommendations.
However, we can’t afford to let the matter lie. As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said “The way this conflict was conducted, under the guise of fighting terrorism, challenged the very foundations of the rules of war and cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians.”