UK calls for UN-backed Sierra Leone type war crimes tribunal

Campaign against SL takes new turn


by Shamindra Ferdinando

An unprecedented British push for a Special Court for Sri Lanka on the lines of UN backed Special Court for Sierra Leone has surprised even those who have been calling for an international investigation into atrocities allegedly committed by the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE during Eelam War IV (August 2006-May 2009).

Authoritative government sources told The Island that the UK would have made its last move at the behest of influential LTTE activists in the UK. British Foreign Secretary, William Hague has unveiled the British plan in India amidst ongoing Western efforts to persuade Premier Manmohan Singh to announce his backing for US-led resolution scheduled to be voted next Thursday (March 27).

India voted for US-led resolutions against Sri Lanka in 2012 and 2013.

In an opinion column published in The Hindu on March 17, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "Seeking the truth and justice helps to put countries on the right track toward reconciliation. Sierra Leone is a good example. Special Court convictions drew a definitive line under a tumultuous period of Sierra Leone’s history and addressed impunity in response to victims’ needs to promote healing."

Asked whether what UK’s position would be on an international mechanism to investigate atrocities, including those committed by the Indian Army during its deployment here (July 1987 to March 1990), a spokesperson for the British High Commission in Colombo said: "As we have previously said and as our Prime Minister said during his visit to Sri Lanka in November last year, we are supporting a call for an independent international investigation into allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka, in the absence of a credible, transparent and independent domestic process. The UK takes allegations of war crimes seriously including those allegations of wrongdoing by our own Armed Forces. For example, allegations relating to Iraq that have been brought to our attention are subjected to thorough examination – including through the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, independent Public Inquiries, and in the UK and European courts."

 The official directed The Island to submit two others queries to British Foreign Office. One question was about Mr. Hague’s position as regards India’s culpability in causing terrorism in Sri Lanka in the 1980s against the backdrop of former Liberian President Charles Taylor being moved to a high security British jail after his sentence for aiding and abetting war crimes in the neighbouing Sierra Leone was upheld by a UN-backed tribunal. We also asked the British High Commission whether the UK had taken up the Sri Lanka issue at the UNHRC before the end of the conflict in May 2009.

Although our questions were sent to London Press Office on March 18, the Foreign Office has not answered them despite reminders. The same queries were subsequently forwarded through the British High in Colombo but there was no response.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone established jointly by the government of Sierra Leone and the UN had been mandated to try not only human rights violators in Sierra Leone but those external elements which had caused terrorism. The Appeals Chamber judges of the court on September 26, 2013 upheld Taylor’s conviction that was made by the Trial Chamber in April 2012.

Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunga during a recent official visit to Washington pointed out that an international investigation could upset Sri Lanka’s relationship with India. Reuters quoted Weeratunga as having said: "If there is an international investigation, the whole period has to be investigated - from the 1980s onward - which includes the two-year tenure of the Indian Peacekeeping Force, which will upset India and our relationship with India."

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