Sri Lanka accused over fate of 'disappeared'

By Ravi Nessman
Friday 07 March 2008 01:00

Sri Lanka was accused of failing to investigate alleged human rights abuses by an international advisory panel that resigned yesterday.

The protest came as a new report blamed the government for the abductions of hundreds of people.

The developments were likely to increase international calls for a UN mission to monitor abuses committed during the surge in fighting between Sri Lankan forces and ethnic Tamil separatists over the past two years. The government has long rejected such a mission, saying it would infringe its sovereignty. Instead, it established advisory panels in an attempt to allay international concerns over killings and abductions.

As part of that effort, President Mahinda Rajapaksa created the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons two years ago to oversee a government commission investigating 16 human rights cases. They included the 2006 execution-style murders of 17 aid workers, an air strike that reportedly killed 51 schoolgirls and the 2005 assassination of the former foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar.

The 11-member panel – a group of experts from India, Japan, the US and other countries – criticised the commission as lethargic and accused the attorney general's office of "serious conflicts of interest".

In a strongly worded statement yesterday, the panel said its suggestions were routinely ignored or rejected and the government inquiry had "fallen far short of the transparency and compliance with basic international norms and standards pertaining to investigations and inquiries".

In a written response, the Attorney General accused the group of working against Sri Lanka's interests and trying to rally international condemnation.

He also said President Rajapaksa would simply appoint new foreign experts, "who are likely to work according to the mandate".

The panel's resignation came as Human Rights Watch released a report accusing the government and allied militias of abducting hundreds of people in the past two years. It said relatives reported watching police officers seize loved ones who were never heard from again.

Most of those taken were Tamils with alleged ties to the rebels, though journal-ists, clergy, teachers and human rights workers also disappeared.

The government blamed the abductions on other armed groups.

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