UN rights body urges more thorough Sri Lanka probe

For the second time in as many years, the U.N.'s top human rights body approved a U.S.-backed resolution Thursday calling on Sri Lanka to more thoroughly investigate alleged war crimes committed by both sides during the country's quarter-century civil war with the Tamil Tiger rebels.

By a 25-13 vote, the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council urged the South Asian nation "to initiate credible and independent actions" to ensure justice and accountability in the aftermath of the conflict, which ended in 2009. Those in favor included India and Brazil, while those opposed included Pakistan, Venezuela and Indonesia.

The resolution followed a U.N. report alleging the government may be to blame for tens of thousands of civilian deaths during the military campaign to defeat the rebels. Like a similar resolution in March 2012, the measure asks Sri Lanka to probe allegations of summary executions, kidnappings and other abuses, but stops short of calling for an international investigation.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said following the vote that the resolution builds on the previous and "encourages the government of Sri Lanka to continue on the path toward lasting peace and prosperity following decades of civil war and instability."

"While some important progress has been made, there is much work still to be done," he said in a statement.

National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said the resolution also demonstrates a commitment by the international community to see Sri Lanka "heal" after two decades of conflict.

"Today's vote sends a clear message that the international community is committed to working with the Government of Sri Lanka to promote greater peace, stability, and prosperity for all of the people of Sri Lanka," she said.

Sri Lanka and its allies staunchly opposed the resolution, saying it unduly interfered in the country's domestic affairs and could hinder its reconciliation process.

The head of Sri Lanka's delegation to the council, Cabinet Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, insisted before the vote that the resolution would set "a dangerous precedent" with its "interventionist" aims and could undermine the Human Rights Council's credibility.

"Today it is Sri Lanka, tomorrow it may be any other country," he told diplomats.

The Sri Lanka government has argued that its own investigation should suffice. A Sri Lankan commission report, released in December 2011, cleared government forces of wrongdoing.

Brazil's ambassador, Maria Nazareth Farani Azevedo, said the resolution would be helpful because Sri Lanka could use it to show compliance with international human rights standards. But opponents such as Venezuela's ambassador, German Mundarain Hernandez, said the "selective" nature of the resolution shows world powers are meddling with the developing world.

"The situation in Sri Lanka does not warrant such urgent attention," said Pakistan's ambassador, Zamir Akram. "A country like Sri Lanka needs to be helped, not chastised."

Rights groups and government critics say the regime of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ignored previous calls for accountability - including last year's resolution - and has dragged its feet in implementing even the limited recommendations made by its own war panel.

Philippe Dam of Human Rights Watch said Thursday that the U.N.'s failure to demand an independent, international probe - after passing a resolution last year that had virtually no effect - means "the council has failed victims again this year."

The resolution was watered down before it passed to add language praising Sri Lanka and to remove other passages such as those calling on the government to give unfettered access to U.N. special investigators and others. Backers of Thursday's resolution argued that credible probes into alleged crimes are an important step to heal the nation.

""The end of the conflict in Sri Lanka provided a unique opportunity to pursue a lasting political settlement, acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka, including the Tamils," said India's ambassador, Dilip Sinha. "We urge Sri Lanka to take forward measures to ensure accountability. We expect these measures to be to the satisfaction of the international community."

In the end, the Geneva-based council passed the resolution with 25 countries in favor, 13 against and eight abstentions.

Enlargephoto

Sri Lankan government supporters carry placards during a protest outside the U.S. embassy against a U.S.-sponsored draft resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Thursday, March 21, 2013. The resolution if carried is expected to urge Sri Lanka to investigate allegations of serious human rights violations in the country's civil war. The protesters call it an interference in the country's domestic affairs. A placard at left depicts U.N. Human Rights chief Navi Pillay with her name written in Sinhalese. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)