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UN Human Rights Council: There must be accountability for victims of Sri Lanka's civil war

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Today’s vote by the Human Rights Council highlights the lack of progress towards addressing Sri Lanka's culture of impunity. The resolution calls on the government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into human rights violations committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

The UN Human Rights Council today called on the Sri Lankan government to end impunity for the rights violations committed during the country’s decades-long civil war.

The resolution on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka was adopted at the Council’s 22nd session in Geneva with 25 member states voting in favour, 13 against and 8 abstaining.

Before coming to an end in May 2009, the brutal conflict in Sri Lanka between government forces and Tamil separatists, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), cost the lives at least 100,000 people. According to the report of a UN panel on accountability in Sri Lanka, some 40,000 civilians were killed in the closing months of the war.

Despite the appointment of a Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) by the Sri Lankan government and its adoption of a National Action Plan to implement the Commission’s recommendations, questions of accountability for serious violations have yet to be fully resolved. According to a February 2013 report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the steps taken by the government to investigate allegations of abuses have “been inconclusive, and lack the independence and impartiality required to inspire confidence.”

By passing the resolution, the Council has sent a clear message that there has been inadequate progress in ending the impunity for the violations of human rights and humanitarian law during the conflict. This latest measure builds upon the Council’s previous resolution on Sri Lanka, adopted in March 2012.

Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu recently called on the the Human Rights Council to pressure the Sri Lankan authorities to end the “present culture of impunity.”

“The personal tragedies of the conflict’s victims,” Robinson and Tutu wrote, “have yet to be acknowledged and accounted for.”

The Elders also urged the Commonwealth to maintain pressure on Sri Lanka in advance of the heads of government meeting in November, including by reconsidering appointing Sri Lanka as its chair for 2013-2015.

The resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council today calls on the Sri Lankan government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into the atrocities committed. It also encourages the government to cooperate with UN human rights experts, and provides for discussions on the issue at further sessions of the Council.

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