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Sri Lanka wins delay on United Nations war crimes report
Reuters - February 17, 2015
Sri Lankan government forces have been accused of widespread human rights violations in the final stages of the civil war that ended in May 2009, including most of about 40,000 killings of Tamil civilians in the final weeks of the conflict.
The UN Human Rights Council voted last March to investigate war crimes in Sri Lanka, saying then president Mahinda Rajapaksa had failed to do so properly.
The inquiry, advised by three experts led by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, was due to report back next month.
However, UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said he had recommended deferral of the team's report until September, and the president of the Human Rights Council had agreed, because of "the changing context in Sri Lanka, and the possibility that important new information may emerge which will strengthen the report".
The new government had given clear commitments indicating it was prepared to cooperate "on a whole range of important human rights issues – which the previous government had absolutely refused to do – and I need to engage with them to ensure those commitments translate into reality", Mr Zeid said.
A Sri Lankan foreign ministry official welcomed the deferral. "This is timely and coincides with the new government's move to establish democratic process for accountability issues," the official said. "This will give space for the domestic investigation process."
Mr Zeid stressed it had been a difficult decision to allow the delay and he vowed not to let wrongdoers off the hook. "I am acutely aware that many victims... might see this is as the first step towards shelving, or diluting, a report they have long feared they would never see," he said.
Sri Lanka had said it needed the delay to give it time to establish a new judicial mechanism to deal with the allegations.
In a letter to Mr Zied seen by Reuters news agency, foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera set out reforms the new government planned to implement within 100 days, including ensuring justice for war crimes.
Mr Samaraweera said he had invited Mr Zeid to Sri Lanka, and all media restrictions and blocks on news websites had been lifted.