UN chief says can’t order probe into Sri Lanka war


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he lacks the authority to personally order a probe into the mass killings of civilians in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, as a report recommended.

A human rights group disagreed with Ban’s description of his limited powers, saying he has the authority to push ahead.

A UN panel appointed by Ban said in its report on the 2008-2009 fighting in northeastern Sri Lanka that there was evidence that the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were guilty of war crimes. It recommended that those crimes be investigated and suspects prosecuted.

The panel urged the UN chief to proceed to establish “an independent international mechanism” to investigate the quarter-century war’s final stages.

But Ban said he could not automatically follow the recommendation of his advisory panel, whose more than 200-page report was rejected as biased and fraudulent by the Sri Lankan government.
“In regard to the recommendation that he establish an international investigation mechanism, the Secretary-General is advised that this will require host country (Sri Lankan) consent or a decision from member states through an appropriate intergovernmental forum,” Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

In other words, without consent of Sri Lanka’s government or a decision by the U.N. Security Council, General Assembly, Human Rights Council or other international body, Ban will not move to set up a formal investigation of the civilian deaths.

UN officials concede that Colombo would never consent to such an investigation of its conduct in the conflict.

Sri Lanka is not a member of the International Criminal Court, which means the Hague-based court would require a referral by the UN Security Council to investigate any possible war crimes there.

Veto powers Russia and China, as well as India, are among the council members opposed to formal Security Council involvement in the case of Sri Lanka, diplomats told Reuters.

The council has only referred two previous situations to the ICC: the conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region and Libya’s violent crackdown against anti-government rebels that sparked an uprising and a Security Council decision to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

In response to international pressure, Sri Lanka set up its own probe. Ban said it was important for the country to pursue “genuine investigations” into the civil war actions.

U.S. envoy to the United Nations Susan Rice said the UN panel report showed “the need for an independent and full accounting of the facts … to ensure that allegations of abuse are addressed and impunity for human rights violations is avoided.”

In a statement, she added that Washington supports Ban’s call for Sri Lanka “to respond constructively to the report.”

Philippe Bolopion of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch disagreed with Ban’s assessment and urged him to set up an international inquiry. Despite Russian and Chinese reluctance, other Security Council members would support a formal UN investigation, he said.
“While we think such intergovernmental support would be highly desirable, we don’t consider it necessary to the creation of an investigative mechanism by (Ban),” he said.

Council diplomats said it was highly unlikely that the council would direct Ban to investigate the Sri Lankan war or refer the case to the ICC, though it might encourage the government to pursue a fuller investigation on its own.

Much of the U.N. report was leaked to the Sri Lankan press this month after an advance copy was sent to the government.

The panel blames both sides for deaths. But the elimination of the LTTE’s leadership by the government and its definitive defeat of the insurgency in May 2009 means that only government forces would be to account in any inquiry.

The U.N. report specifically accuses the government of widespread shelling including targeting field hospitals, denying humanitarian aid, and committing rights violations against people inside and outside the conflict zone.

It says there is no authoritative figure for civilian deaths in the final phase of the war, but “multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilians deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage.”