Sri Lanka opposes UN human rights panel

By Bharatha Mallawarachi
Associated Press Writer / June 23, 2010

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—Sri Lanka on Wednesday strongly opposed as "unwarranted" the appointment of a United Nations panel to look into alleged human rights abuses committed during the final stages of the island nation's 25-year civil war.

The three-member panel appointed by the U.N. chief on Tuesday is headed by former Indonesian Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman, also the U.N.'s special rights investigator for North Korea.

Its job is to advise U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on alleged violations of international rights and humanitarian laws during the war's final stages. The panel aims to get cooperation from Sri Lankan officials and to complete its advisory work within four months.

But Sri Lanka's foreign ministry called the panel "an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation."

It said in a statement Wednesday that Sri Lanka has "consistently promoted and protected human rights" and the U.N. move "has potential for exploitation by vested interests hostile to the process of reconciliation taking place in Sri Lanka."

Sri Lanka faces growing international criticism for not examining abuses allegedly committed during the final phase of the civil war that ended in May 2009, when government forces crushed the rebels who had fought for a separate state in the north for ethnic minority Tamils.

Government spokesman and minister Keheliya Rambukwella on Wednesday said the government is investigating the civil war.

He called the appointment of the U.N. panel "regrettable" and said President Mahinda Rajapaksa had appointed a "Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission" to investigate alleged human rights abuses during the conflict.

The U.N. says more than 7,000 civilians died in the last five months of the conflict. Rights groups say they have photographic and video evidence and have called for war crime investigations. Sri Lankan officials have refused calls to establish an international tribunal.

The European Union on Tuesday warned Sri Lanka will lose preferential trade status unless it pledges to improve its human rights record within six months.

The other two members of the U.N. panel are Yasmin Sooka, a South African former member of the commission that investigated apartheid atrocities, and Steven Ratner, an American lawyer and author of a book on the struggle among nations to hold people accountable for human rights abuses. top stories on Twitter

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