Sri Lanka’s leader rejected calls for a war crimes probe at a public protest on Sunday against a UN finding of “credible evidence” government forces committed atrocities when crushing Tamil Tiger guerrillas in 2009.
Last week the UN published the findings of a three-member panel UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed to advise him on “issues of accountability” related to the end of the war, despite Sri Lankan objections.
The report has renewed Western pressure on the Indian Ocean nation to submit to an international probe over allegations that thousands of civilians were killed the end of its 25-year war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Sri Lanka has since accused the West of applying double standards to Colombo’s military moves to defeat a group that was on the terrorism lists of the US, UN and 30 other countries.
“This government fed the enemy which fought against it, using a human shield of 300,000 people,” Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, alluding to the fact that government agents tried to provide food to hungry civilians in Tiger-held areas, only to end up feeding guerrillas who held them at gunpoint.
“What the government did was protect innocent civilians from the clutch of terrorists,” Rajapaksa told a protest rally of several thousand people in the capital Colombo.
The UN panel, which did not have an investigative mandate, accused victorious Sri Lankan government troops of killing tens of thousands of civilians and said there was “credible evidence” war crimes were committed by both sides.
However, the elimination of the LTTE, which carried out hundreds of suicide bombings and attacks on civilians during the insurgency and held nearly 300,000 people as human shields at the war’s end, means any prosecutions would hit the government only.
“Children who went to school were forcibly taken to fight during those days. Today, they play cricket. Students who wore cyanide capsules around their necks today learn chemistry,” Rajapaksa said. “Are these human rights violations or crimes?”
The release of the UN report before the findings of Sri Lanka’s own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission was divisive and harmful to the government’s own moves to instil peace and reconciliation, the Sri Lankan foreign ministry has said.