The United Nations’ human rights chief today began discussions with the Sri Lankan government over its probe into allegations of atrocities committed during the civil war with the Tamil Tigers amid an uncertainty over the involvement of foreign judges in the investigations.
The four-day visit of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is significant following a UNHRC resolution last October mandating an investigation into the alleged rights abuses during Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict that ended in 2009.
Hussein, on his first visit to Sri Lanka after succeeding Navi Pillay as UN rights chief, hoped for “constructive discussions” with President Maithripala Sirisena.
“I have been looking forward to coming and I am looking forward to meeting both the highest officials of the state as well as representatives of all communities,” Zeid said.
He was met at the airport in Colombo by Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera with whom he later held talks.
In a hard hitting report, Hussein has criticised Sri Lanka’s failure to deliver justice to the victims of the 26-year conflict. He has prescribed an international “hybrid court” with foreign judges, prosecutors and investigators.
However the current Sirisena government, which has a softer attitude towards the minority communities than the nationalist hawkish regime of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, has cited constitutional difficulties in allowing foreign judges to operate on the island.
But Sirisena agreed to a domestic probe on allegations that 40,000 people were killed in the last phase of the war between government troops and the LTTE rebels.
The UN rights chief has also cited historical attempts to cover-up investigations through domestic mechanisms, rather than genuine processes to seek the truth.
Hussein is due to visit the northern Tamil capital of Jaffna tomorrow and the eastern port city of Trincomalee on Monday. He will also meet victims of the armed conflict in addition to meeting with government officials.
In Jaffna, Tamil rights groups have organised a demonstration to highlight the plight of relatives of disappeared persons of the war that killed an estimated 100,000 people.
The unity government of Sirisena and Wickremesinghe is facing domestic pressure from Sinhala majority nationalists to not allow foreign judges to try army soldiers.
Nationalists view the military as war heroes for ending the separatist campaign of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.
In Colombo, the National Freedom Front protested Hussein’s visit claiming it would lead to concessions to Tamils through a political deal and would eventually lead to the separation of the country’s Tamil-dominated north and east.