09/17/2015, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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UN war crimes report confirms the abuses of former President Rajapaksa

by Melani Manel Perera
Foreign minister announces an independent commission of inquiry. For Catholic priest, the government has “waited far too long.” Political prisoners “must be released,” and the government has an obligation to answer now, not tomorrow." Religions are important for reconstruction.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – We must praise the “international organisations and the victims for the work they have done despite the abuse and death threats perpetrated by Rajapaksa. This report is the result of their efforts,” said Dr Nimalka Fernando.

The Christian activist spoke to AsiaNews about a 15-page report that was issued yesterday in Geneva by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In her view, the document underscores “the need to fight for freedom and democracy without fear of political leaders".

Originally set for publication in March but delayed because of the country’s presidential (January) and parliamentary (August) elections , the report follows the 2014 UN resolution that criticised Sri Lanka for war crimes.

Its central focus are the crimes committed by the Sri Lankan military and Tamil Tiger rebels during the final stages of the civil war that engulfed the country for about 30 years. It comes after a series of reports and resolutions adopted over the years that highlight the responsibilities of both parties.

Within hours, Sri Lankan authorities announced the creation of an independent commission of inquiry. Under international pressure, Sri Lankan Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera announced Tuesday, at a meeting of the United Nations Council for Human Rights in Geneva, that the government planned an independent and credible ‘Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence’.

For Dr Fernando, “this should be a lesson” for future leaders, that they “cannot sin and imagine that the world will remain silent in front of their indecent behaviour."

Although former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has always rejected the charges against him, the UN report indicates that up to 40,000 civilians might have been killed between 2006 and 2009 when he was in power.

Fernando goes further, noting that people involved in the violence of war now sit in parliament and government and should have "the decency to resign."

Dr Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, noted that in the last stages of the conflict Tamil rebels also committed abuses, using civilians as human shields.

In his view, the UN report "shows that it is not possible to set up domestic investigation mechanisms, given the numerous cases of corruption.” Hence, “We must create international bodies".

What is more, the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, created in 2011, stressed the role religions can play in creating a climate of social justice to rebuild the country.

Fr Reid Shelton Fernando, a Catholic priest, welcomes the government move. However, he noted that it “waited far too long.”

“Now [political] prisoners must be released, and the situation has to change soon. The government has an obligation to answer now, not tomorrow."

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