Special Report
UK Parliament paper reveals efforts at UN mandate for SL
‘war crimes’ probe

A United Kingdom Research Paper dated June 5,2009 revealed an account of developments conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE when a ceasefire was agreed and hopes raised and rapidly dashed since 2002 when there might have been a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The paper also provided a brief historical and social survey of Sri Lanka including the origins of the conflict between the Government and the LTTE.

The paper also surveyed the stance taken by the international community on the conflict, the military capabilities of the Sri Lankan military and aid and development issues.

It concluded by considering Sri Lanka’s future prospects, including assessing and future prospects, including assessing how real the Governmwnt’s military victory was and whether genuine political and constitutional reforms were likely to be introduced’

Following are extracts of the report:

A recent UK House of Commons research paper dated 5 June 2009 details the role of the UK and the EU in the international campaign on Sri Lanka including at the United Nations. The extracts that follow from the 88 page document which contains the term "war crimes" 31 times and "investigation" 34 times, sets out the "failed efforts to mandate the Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation into alleged war crimes."

The report states that "The paper also surveys the stance taken by the international community on the conflict" and that the "information is provided to Members of Parliament in support of their parliamentary duties".

The report is entitled "War and peace in Sri Lanka, RESEARCH PAPER 09/51, 5 June 2009".

The Contributing Authors are: Jon Lunn, Political and diplomatic issues, International Affairs and Defence Section; Claire Taylor, Military issues, International Affairs and Defence Section; Ian Townsend, Development and humanitarian issues, Economic Policy and Statistics Section.

The introduction to the report states:

There has also been some activity on Sri Lanka within UN human rights mechanisms. Since late 2007, international human rights groups and their local allies have been lobbying for a UN human rights monitoring mission to be established in Sri Lanka, supported by the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour and her successor, Navi Pillay. These calls have been consistently rejected by the Sri Lankan Government but remain ‘on the table’ internationally, at least in theory.

In 2008 Sri Lanka took part in the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the Human Rights Council. In the same year it failed in its bid for a second term on the Human Rights Council.

Also in March, the international panel invited by the Government to investigate alleged human rights abuses announced that it was leaving Sri Lanka, on the grounds that the authorities were obstructing its work, a claim that was denied. Two months later, Sri Lanka’s attempt to get re-elected to the Human Rights Council was defeated.

Nonetheless, the only context in which Sri Lanka has been on the Security Council’s formal agenda to date is under its thematic concerns – for example, on children and armed conflict under Resolution 1612 (2005). Both parties to the conflict have been accused for many years of abducting children and forcibly recruiting them as soldiers, although the LTTE has been responsible for the majority of such crimes.

Efforts at the recent 10th session of the HRC in March 2009 to win agreement to hold a special session on Sri Lanka were unsuccessful, despite support from some European countries.

Finally, the UN Deputy Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sir John Holmes issued numerous statements about the humanitarian crisis and also visited Sri Lanka in late April.

The conflict in Sri Lanka has not yet been put on the formal agenda of the UN Security Council as a country situation. While in general there was little appetite for doing so until late 2008, in recent months it was Russia and China that have blocked more concerted efforts by other members of the Security Council. The apparent inaction of the Security Council has been the subject of heavy criticism by those who believe it should have played a much more active role than it has. However, the mounting humanitarian crisis in the north eventually led the Security Council to issue a press statement on Sri Lanka on May 13.

Members of the Security Council expressed deep concern at the reports of continued use of heavy calibre weapons in areas with high concentrations of civilians, and expected the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitment in this regard.

Members of the Security Council took note of the steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the humanitarian situation of displaced persons and called on the Government to ensure the security of those displaced by the conflict and to cooperate with the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and other international humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian relief and access to them as soon as they leave the conflict zone.

While it fell short of the legally binding Security Council resolution that many had been calling for, the issuing of the press statement was widely interpreted as a setback for the Sri Lankan Government and a signal that it could not rely on Russian or Chinese protection irrespective of its actions.

There was growing criticism of the international community for its failure to respond adequately to the crisis in Sri Lanka. Efforts to get Sri Lanka onto the formal agenda of the UN Security Council were stymied by Russia and China, although a press statement was eventually issued. Following the brief ‘humanitarian pause’ on 12-13 April, international calls for a longer one, so that the remaining civilians could escape safely, intensified. A series of international delegations travelled to the country. For example, a EU diplomatic mission comprising UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his Swedish and French counterparts, Carl Bildt and Bernard Kouchner, was mandated to go to Sri Lanka on 29 April. However, Bildt, despite EU protests, was refused entry.

Following Miliband and Kouchner’s visit, President Rajapakse again ruled out a ceasefire, stating: "I don’t need lectures from Western representatives." Despite the growing international condemnation, there were no official international moves to impose sanctions against the Sri Lankan Government, as some were calling for. However, in April 2009 the Sri Lankan Government accused the US and UK, amongst others, of putting pressure on the International Monetary Fund not to give a $1.9 billion loan to Sri Lanka. There did appear to have been, at the very least, a delay.

On 18 May, as the fighting drew to an end, the European Council issued a statement. In the statement, Member States came out in favour of holding an independent investigation into allegations that both the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE had committed war crimes.

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