May 31, 2011 / 3:22 PM / 9 years ago

U.N. pressures Sri Lanka over alleged war atrocities

GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. envoy said on Tuesday the international community as well as Sri Lanka should further investigate horrific footage apparently showing summary executions of naked men and women during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

A protester gestures as he blocks the entrance to the United Nations headquarters with other protesters in Colombo July 6, 2010. REUTERS/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

He stopped short of saying there could be an international war crimes case, but his comments raised pressure on Colombo to submit to an international inquiry into charges that war crimes were committed at the end of its 25-year war with guerrillas of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Christof Heyns, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday the video was, on the face of it, convincing evidence of “serious international crimes”.

The footage provided by Britain’s Channel 4 television appears to show soldiers carrying out summary executions and a total of 14 people on the ground, apparently dead or dying.

“The prima facie case should go to the next level of investigation on a domestic and an international level,” Heyns told a news briefing on Tuesday.

“We should recognise the domestic process, but I think in parallel there should be an international investigation.”

Heyns did not say what he meant by serious international crimes, which can be war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Sri Lankan authorities have rejected the video as falsified and accused the United Nations of bias and jumping to hasty conclusions.

They have acknowledged some non-combatants were killed, but say the numbers have been inflated by LTTE supporters.

The LTTE recruited women and girls as well as men.


Sri Lanka has also accused the international community of trying to pre-empt its own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

In dialogue with the U.N. rapporteur, Mohan Pieris, Sri Lanka’s attorney general, said the LLRC had also been studying the video.

He argued that the publication of the videos and “subsequent steps” were “tainted with the fundamental vice of bias and partiality”.

Channel 4’s hour-long investigation, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields”, will be shown in Geneva on Friday on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council and broadcast in Britain on June 14.

It includes the roughly five minutes of footage examined by U.N.-appointed experts, which was a longer version of a roughly minute-long video previously made available.

Sri Lanka and the pro-LTTE diaspora have engaged in a propaganda war since well before the conflict ended, with numerous groups offering what they say is realistic footage or photographs of atrocities. Many later proved to be doctored.

Barely a month after the civil war ended, Sri Lanka shocked Western governments by engineering the adoption of a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that praised its victory over the Tamil Tigers, a group on more than 30 nations’ terrorism lists.

That defeated a European-backed resolution condemning the civilian deaths at the war’s end, pushed by nations angry that Sri Lanka refused pressure for a ceasefire in the final months.

The United States has warned that failure to investigate credibly allegations of war crimes and establish genuine reconciliation could lead to an international war crimes investigation.

Diplomats involved with Sri Lanka see that as unlikely, however, given the backing it has from China and Russia on the U.N. Security Council.

Additional reporting by Bryson Hull in Colombo; editing by Mark Heinrich

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