Demonstrators in Sri Lanka protested against the UN panel on war crimes on Tuesday, as the government seemed unimpressed by the EU's decision to withdraw trade concessions over Sri Lanka's human rights record.
Protestors in front of the UN office in Colombo
Police have clashed with demonstrators in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, protesting in front of the UN office demanding the dissolution of the UN panel on war crimes. The protests were led by a cabinet minister, Wimal Weerawansa, who is known to be a close ally of President Mahinda Rajapakse. Weerawansa told a crowd of demonstrators that they would fast unto death until the panel was withdrawn. The government, however, has distanced itself from the protest and said that it was not Sri Lanka's official position.
Colombo prepared for EU halt in trade concessions
Refugees during the civil war against the Tamil rebels
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government has refused to comply with the European Union's demands for improvement in its human rights record. The EU has decided to withdraw all tariff concessions for Sri Lanka in European markets from August 15 onwards. This would mean a loss of nearly 100 million euros a year for the country. The media minister, Keheliya Rambukwella said that his government was prepared to help export businesses that would be affected by the move. He said that the government would not accept the EU's conditions and described them as 'insulting to every Sri Lankan'. The EU had earlier offered to extend its deadline by six months if Sri Lanka was willing to submit written assurances on improving its human rights record. The EU foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, expressed regret at Sri Lanka's decision. The EU trade concessions are known as the GSP+ and are aimed at providing poor countries with preferential access to markets in Europe. For their part, these countries have to commit themselves to respect human rights.
UN panel to investigate war crimes
The civil war in Sri Lanka between the government forces and Tamil Tiger separatists (LTTE) ended in 2009 when the rebel Tigers were crushed, but there has been speculation about the number of civilians who died at the end of the war and about possible violations of human rights. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed a panel on June 22 to investigate the issue. The Sri Lankan government refuses to accept the panel. It denies that Sri Lankan soldiers committed any war crimes and has also accused Tamil Tiger refugees and their supporters in Western countries of inflating casualty figures. The government has also criticized Western democracies, accusing them of double standards while waging a war against terror themselves.
Editor: Grahame Lucas