Sri Lanka promised on Thursday (17) to punish those found guilty of war crimes but stopped short of supporting an internationally backed probe, a day after a damning UN report on abuses committed during the island’s conflict.
Foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera said the government would work with the international community to ensure accountability and reconciliation following the island’s separatist war, which ended in 2009.
But Samaraweera did not commit to the UN’s key recommendation to allow international experts to assist its domestic investigation, saying more discussions were needed with stakeholders.
He said the government would establish its own “credible, domestic mechanism” within 18 months to probe allegations in the UN report.
“We have a well-crafted and a sober report,” Samaraweera said. “It is now up to us to investigate and ensure justice is rolled out.”
“Whoever is responsible, if proved, we will punish them without considering their rank or position,” Samaraweera told reporters in Colombo. “By doing that we can protect the good name of the army.”
Releasing the long-awaited report on Wednesday, UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Sri Lanka needed international help to address the “horrific level of violations and abuses” during the decades-long war.
Sri Lanka’s then army chief Sarath Fonseka denied on Thursday there had been abuses by troops under his command, but said the government should investigate the UN’s allegations.
“Army, military and the law enforcement authorities will have to face the reality (and) should be in a position to answer reasonably and clear the minds and doubts of those who are making those allegations,” he told reporters.
The UN report alleged that key Tiger leaders were executed by security forces after they surrendered in the final days of the war, but Fonseka denied this.
“According to my knowledge, such an incident did not happen,” he said.
Fonseka fell out with ex-president Mahinda Rajapakse over who should take credit for the spectacular military victory over Tamil rebels.
He later quit the army and was jailed after he unsuccessfully challenged Rajapakse’s re-election bid in January 2010, before being exonerated by new president Maithripala Sirisena.
Sirisena came to power in January promising reconciliation between majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils and accountability for atrocities in the conflict in which 100,000 people died.
Colombo, which is planning a series of measures to achieve reconciliation including the creation of a truth commission, had been hoping to win the UN’s backing for a domestic probe.
Sri Lanka’s main Tamil party welcomed the UN report and urged Colombo to implement its measures.
In a statement, the Tamil National Alliance admitted there had been “unspeakable crimes committed in our name,” but said the party was keen to support reconciliation.