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Sri Lanka garners support against U.N. probe

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11, 2010 (IPS) - Sri Lanka, which won a grueling decades-long battle against one of the world’s most ferocious terrorist organizations last May, has scored a diplomatic victory in its ongoing war of words with the United Nations.

The largest single political coalition has, in a rare rebuke, lambasted Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his decision to appoint a panel of experts to advise him on "accountability issues" relating to post-conflict Sri Lanka, where the country’s military has been accused of human rights violations and alleged war crimes.

The 118-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), currently chaired by Egypt, has expressed "deep concern" over Ban’s unilateral decision to create the proposed panel, and accused him of two serious charges: attempting to violate the U.N. charter and trying to interfere in the domestic affairs of a member state.

The decision to establish a panel of experts was made over the strong objections of the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which claimed a decisive victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) battling for a separate nation state in northern Sri Lanka.

"The Non-Aligned Movement strongly condemns selective targeting of individual countries, which it deems contrary to the founding principles of the Movement and the United Nations Charter," said Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt, in a letter to Ban.

In Colombo, Prof. G.L. Peiris, a senior minister of the government deplored what he called ``manipulative’’ action of by-passing the Security Council where many voices would have been raised about setting up an advisory panel on accountability issues.

``Many voices would have been raised against such action and even a veto in the Security Council was not unlikely,’’ Peiris said. ``The secretary general’s office has succumbed to pressure from a very small group of countries whose influence is grossly disproportionate to the actual strength of the UN.’’

He also alleged ``cynical rejection of values enshrined in the UN Charter on this matter.’’

Ambassador Abdelazis’s letter to Ban followed a NAM meeting which unanimously agreed to protest the secretary-general’s action.

"As you are surely aware, the president of Sri Lanka has already confirmed in public his intention to appoint a domestic mechanism to address accountability issues, voluntarily," the NAM chair said.

The letter also points out that neither the Security Council, nor the General Assembly, or its subsidiary Human Rights Council, have made any pronouncements on alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka or mandated any particular course of action.

"The situation in Sri Lanka is not on the agenda of any of these bodies, and there is nothing in the U.N. charter that authorizes intervention in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state, without prejudice of course to the application of enforcement measures under chapter VII," the letter argues.

Under that chapter, only the Security Council has the authority to intervene - if and when it determines the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of peace, or act of aggression - primarily to maintain or restore international peace and security.

The NAM letter implicitly accuses the secretary-general of playing politics when it says that the non-aligned countries "are of the conviction" that the proposal to appoint a panel of experts on the eve of parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka "could do more harm than good to the country’s ongoing and relentless efforts aimed at reinforcing reconciliation and national unity."

Based on the principles of national ownership and leadership, the Non-Aligned countries says they wish "to underscore the need to allow enough space and time for the government of Sri Lanka to complete its own domestic processes, without interference or unsolicited assistance" from the United Nations.

Asked for an official reaction, a U.N. spokesman told IPS: "We are considering responding by letter. I cannot confirm it yet, but I hope that by tomorrow, we’ll have something specific to say."

The decision to appoint a panel of experts may have been prompted primarily by a call, by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, for an international investigation on human rights violations committed both by Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE.

Both warring parties have been accused of killing civilians - intentionally or unintentionally.

The government has denied the charges, even though the armed forces have also been accused of killing insurgents while in the act of surrendering - which if proved, amounts to war crimes.

Rajapaksa has called the proposed investigation "both unprecedented and unwarranted as no such action had been taken about other (member) states with continuing armed conflicts on a large scale, involving major humanitarian catastrophes and causing the deaths of large numbers of civilians due to military action."

In a statement Saturday, Rajapaksa said that allegations of human rights violations were motivated by "misrepresentations by apologists of the LTTE" and "by some non-governmental organizations" with a "misguided" agenda directed against Sri Lanka.

Last Thursday, the secretary-general spoke to Rajapaksa on the phone and informed him about the proposed panel.

At a press conference Friday, Ban said: "I had a frank and honest exchange of views with President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa, over issues that were of concern to both of us."

This included moving forward on political reconciliation, further movement on the condition of internally displaced persons, and the establishment of an accountability process, he said.

"I am concerned with the lack of progress of the joint statement which both I and President Rajapaksa had agreed during my visit (to Sri Lanka) last year," he said.

"I raised this issue and discussed [it]. I made clear to President Rajapaksa that I intend to move forward on a Group of Experts which will advise me on setting the broad parameters and standards on the way ahead on establishing accountability concerning Sri Lanka," Ban said.

For that purpose, he said, "we have agreed that I dispatch [Under-Secretary-General of Political Affairs] Lynn Pascoe in the very near future."

But that visit has also been put on hold.

The government is also unlikely to permit any members of the panel to visit Sri Lanka to investigate charges of human rights violations.

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