Sri Lanka will not grant visas to UN investigators probing war crimes allegedly committed during the last phase of island nation’s decades-long separatist conflict, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has announced.
Sri Lanka has refused to accept the authority of the UN Human Rights Council, which voted in March to investigate allegations that the military killed about 40,000 civilians in the final months of the civil war, which ended in 2009.
But it is the first time that Rajapaksa has said UN investigators will not be allowed into the country, effectively barring them from face-to-face access to Sri Lankans wanting to testify.
“We will not allow them into the country,” Rajapaksa told the Foreign Correspondents’ Association on Tuesday, adding that any cases of people missing, or allegations of misdeeds, had to be investigated through the local panel.
“We are saying that we do not accept it (the probe). We are against it,” Rajapakse said.
“But when it comes to other UN agencies, we are always ready to fully cooperate and fully engage with them.”
Outgoing UN rights chief Navi Pillay earlier this month suggested that her investigators looking into allegations of mass killings may not have to travel to Sri Lanka at all.
She said there was a “wealth of information” outside the country.
Her remarks prompted allegations from Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry that her investigation was on a “preconceived trajectory” and that her “prejudice and lack of objectivity” were unfortunate.
Asked about Pillay’s comments, Rajapaksa said, “I don’t think anybody will take it (the UN investigation) seriously, other than the people who want it.”
Sri Lanka’s external affairs minister GL Peiris, who was accompanying Rajapaksa, called the UN investigations biased, saying they went against natural justice as the UN had said it would not reveal witnesses’ identities.
“So how can you ascertain the truth?” he added. “They are judges in their own courts. We don’t recognise their jurisdiction and their authority.”
Colombo insists that its troops did not commit war crimes while crushing the Tamil Tiger rebel movement at the end of a conflict which stretched for more than three decades and claimed more than 100,000 lives.
Rajapaksa also announced inclusion of two more foreign experts – a Pakistani and an Indian – to join three other international legal experts already on a panel of advisors helping a presidential Commission of Inquiry.
Indian rights activist Avdhash Kaushal and Pakistani lawyer Ahmer Bilal Soofi will be joining British lawyers Desmond de Silva and Geoffrey Nice and US law professor David Crane, all former UN war crimes prosecutors in the panel.
The Sri Lankan president said he was willing to give “even two more years” to the commission to complete its work.
The commission said it was probing 19,471 cases of missing persons as of Tuesday and completed hearings only in respect of 939 cases.