South Asia

Amnesty report: Sri Lanka's civil war panel 'flawed'

File picture of shell hole in Sri Lanka (January 2009)
Image caption Both sides are accused of the widespread shelling of civilian areas during the war

A government inquiry into Sri Lanka's civil war is "flawed at every level", providing no accountability for atrocities, says a new report.

The commission has not properly pursued allegations of war crimes committed by the army and Tamil Tiger rebels, says the Amnesty International report.

The rebels were defeated in 2009 in a hard-fought end to their two-decade separatist war.

The government has rejected Amnesty's conclusions.

It says that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will provide justice and get to the bottom of human rights violations that may have been committed during the war.

The government says it is unfair to judge the LLRC's work until its report - which it says is based on witness testimony - is published in November.

It has repeatedly argued that its forces behaved with complete discipline in the last months of the war. It has dismissed the idea of an international inquiry into the latter stages of the conflict as a waste of time.

Enforced disappearances

The Amnesty report says it exposes the shortcomings of the inquiry carried out by the LLRC.

"The Sri Lankan government has, for almost two years, used the LLRC as its trump card in lobbying against an independent international investigation," said Amnesty's Asia Pacific Director Sam Zarifi ahead of the launch of the report - entitled When will they get justice? Failures of Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

"Officials described it as a credible accountability mechanism, able to deliver justice and promote reconciliation. In reality it's flawed at every level: in mandate, composition and practice."

The LLRC was established by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in May 2010, after he made a joint commitment to an accountability process in Sri Lanka alongside UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Image caption Amnesty says that the commission falls well short of international judicial standards

But Amnesty says the commission's mandate falls far short of international standards for such inquiries and that it has "failed to appropriately investigate credible allegations of systematic violations by both sides to the conflict".

It says that these crimes include illegal killings and enforced disappearances, widespread shelling of civilian targets such as hospitals and the use of civilians as human shields.

The human rights group says that commissioners on the LLRC include former government officials who have publicly defended it against allegations of war crimes.

The LLRC published an interim report in September and will submit its final report in November.

"It is the latest in a long line of failed domestic inquiries. Impunity has been the rule rather than the exception, now exacerbated by a post-conflict triumphalism that rejects all responsibility for abuses carried out by government forces," said Mr Zarifi.

"Only an international, independent investigation can deliver justice to the thousands of victims of Sri Lanka's brutal conflict."

When the Sri Lankan president set up the LLRC last year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it held promise.

Since then, the government has reminded its critics of her remark, and has told them to wait and see what the LLRC produces.

But the BBC's Charles Havilland in Colombo says the commission does not have a high domestic profile. In its six months of public hearings people have given testimony about enforced disappearances which have been largely ignored by the media - except for Tamil-language newspapers.

The state-run Daily News says the Sri Lankan government delegation now heading for the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva will "counter numerous false allegations" levelled against the country.

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