9 Mar 2014

Sri Lanka inquiry: genuine progress or diplomatic fudge?

David Cameron is pushing for the UN to set up an international, independent inquiry into war crimes and human rights abuses allegedly carried out by the Sri Lankan military.

The British prime minister promised at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Colombo last year that if Sri Lanka did not do enough investigate allegations of human rights violations committed by its forces, then he would push for the UN to takeover.

The deadline he set the Sri Lankan government, 2 March, has now passed.

Many of the allegations of human rights violations and war crimes have been brought to light by Channel 4 News, and on Sunday night journalist Callum Macrae’s report revealed even more shocking video evidence – that appears to show government soldiers sexually violating the bodies of dead Tamil women.

Forensic analysis of the videos indicates that the footage is genuine.


At the Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka in November last year, Mr Cameron said: “Let me be very clear, if that investigation is not completed by March then I will use our position on the UN human rights council to work with the UN Human Rights commissioner and call for a full credible and independent international inquiry.”

Whilst in Jaffna, the main city in the traaditionally Tamil north of Sri Lanka, crowds of people came onto the streets to ask for help in locating their missing sons, husbands and fathers.

Last month the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, pushed the calls for an independent inquiry further. A report from her office said the government of Sri Lanka, led by Mahindra Rajapaksa, had “failed to ensure independent and credible investigations into past violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

The report said that new evidence “continue to emerge” and that Ms Pillay “recommends the establishment of an independent, international inquiry mechanism, which would contribute to establishing the truth where domestic inquiry mechanisms have failed.”

Sri Lanka’s ‘failure’

Channel 4 News contacted 10 Downing Street to see if Mr Cameron would make good on his promise.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “When the prime minister was in Sri Lanka, he said that this month was the deadline for the government of Sri Lanka to take concrete action to establish a credible, thorough inquiry into what happened during their civil war, including its final stages.

“They have failed to do so.

“Therefore the UK, along with four other countries including the US, has tabled a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council supporting the call by the UN high commissioner for human rights for an international, independent investigation into violations of human rights and related crimes by both sides during the war.

“We want this to take place in this year’s UN HRC session. There will be a vote on our resolution at the end of this month.

“Ahead of the vote, we are working hard to secure support from other countries. The PM has personally written to a number of leaders whose countries are on the Human Rights Council this session calling on them to support this resolution which would help to deliver progress on reconciliation and human rights in Sri Lanka.”


However, Mr Macrae warned that an early draft of the resolution is a “bit of a diplomatic fudge”.

He told Channel 4 News: “It doesn’t call for the setting up of an independnent mechanism, or commissio,n as many people hoped. It calls on … the human rights commissoner’s offices to launch its own investigation whilst also saying Sri Lanka should continue to carry on with (it’s investigation).

“It’s not quite as clear as many people hoped.”

He said he was concerned that human rights groups will see this as an opportunity for Sri Lanka to “string the international community” along.