War Issues: Lalith Weeratunga bound to UNHRC to explain Govt’s position

Yasushi Akashi stresses importance of Witness Protection Act


by Zacki Jabbar

Japan’s Special envoy to Sri Lanka Yasushi Akashi yesterday revealed that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga would visit the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) next month to explain the steps taken to address accountability issues stemming from the last stages of the war with the LTTE, which the international community was pressing for.

Akashi, who is the Japanese Governments Representative for Peace-Building, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka, told the media in Colombo at the conclusion of his five-day official visit, that the Presidential Secretary’s presence in Geneva ahead of the annual sessions scheduled for March 2014, would go a long way in easing international pressure on the Rajapaksa regime to conduct an independent probe into allegations of war crimes.

Akashi said that Weeratunga’s impending visit to the UNHRC had been intimated to him by President Rajapaksa.Asked if he had raised good governance issues including the failure of the Sri Lankan government to establish a Witness Protection Act with President Rajapaksa, the Japanese envoy replied "Yes, the President assured me that it would be done. He told me that the Cabinet had discussed proposed legislation and the Bill would be presented to Parliament shortly."

When pointed out that the President had since the war ended in May 2009, given the same assurance to all visiting leaders but it had not been implemented, Akashi said: "I emphasised that the Witness Protection Act was a prerequisite in the light of certain incidents that had taken place. Pledges need to be followed up with concrete action. It should not be a case of just sound and fury. Implementation of the LLRC Report would be a good testing ground for the government to exhibit its sincerity."

Akashi admitted that even Sri Lankans, not just the international community were impatient and concerned about the delay on the part of the government to implement the recommendations of its own LLRC. But, inquiries into allegations stemming from a thirty-year-war could not be addressed over night, he pointed out, calling for a concerted effort to address accountability issues raised by the international community.

Responding to a question on the killing of 17 Tamils and Muslims working for the French NGO Action Contre la Faim (ACF) workers at Mutur in August 2006 and the murder of five Tamil School children in January 2006, allegedly by the military, the Japanese envoy replied that he did not have any information of potential witnesses. But, he stressed that those responsible should be brought to justice and in that regard it was essential that the Witness Protection Act be established.

Replying to another query on remarks by the UNHRC Chief Navaneethem Pillay during her visit to Sri Lanka in August this year that the Sri Lankan government was acting in an authoritarian manner, Akashi said: "She was doing her job and that’s her right, but I have no right to comment on that."

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