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Sri Lanka: Update on War Crimes Investigation Proposal

(Sept. 24, 2015) On September 22, 2015, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka, speaking to the legislature, rejected the recommendation from the United Nations that there be international involvement in the investigation into the war crimes that allegedly occurred during the country’s civil war or that there be established any form of hybrid domestic and international court to try offenders. He stated, “[t]here is nothing to be got from abroad.” (Sri Lanka Rejects International War Crimes Probe, CHANNEL NEWS ASIA (Sept. 22, 2015); Taylor Gillan, Sri Lanka PM Rejects UN Call for International War Crimes Investigation, PAPER CHASE (Sept. 22, 2015; No International Mechanism to Investigate Alleged War Crimes, Sri Lankan PM Reiterates, LANKA PAGE (Sept. 23, 2015).)

The U. N. Human Rights Council had called for a hybrid special court that would try perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka from both sides of the civil conflict. (Constance Johnson, Sri Lanka: Proposal to Establish Truth and Reconciliation Commission, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Sept. 16, 2015).) Although in contrast to previous administrations, Sri Lanka’s current government has said it will prosecute war criminals, members of the minority Tamil community reportedly do not trust a purely domestic forum to follow through effectively. (Sri Lanka Rejects International War Crimes Probe, supra.) In place of an international court, Sri Lanka plans to establish an internal mechanism modeled on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. (Johnson, supra.)

The President of the Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, came into office with strong support from the Tamil community; he promised then to restore human rights and the rule of law. (Sri Lanka Rejects International War Crimes Probe, supra.) Wickremesinghe did stress that the government will work to both maintain peace and to serve all of the communities of the country equally, ending racism and religious discrimination. The Prime Minister also said that in addition to investigating crimes from the civil war era, the government will probe cases of corruption and misuse of public resources. (No International Mechanism to Investigate Alleged War Crimes, Sri Lankan PM Reiterates, supra.)