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Sri Lanka wins delay of UN report

February 17, 2015

The UN Human Rights Council has postponed the release of a report into alleged war crimes committed during Sri Lanka's civil war. The move had been requested by country's new government.

Zeid Raad al-Hussein
Image: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The council on Monday accepted the recommendation from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein (pictured) for the publication of the highly-anticipated report to be pushed back from March to September.

"This has been a difficult decision," Zeid said in a statement. He added, however, that a six-month delay created the "possibility that new information may emerge," which should allow for a "stronger and more comprehensive report."

The findings of the UN-mandated probe, which were to be presented to the council next month, relate specifically to allegations that Sri Lankan government forces killed up to 40,000 Tamil civilians during a 2009 push to crush ethnic Tamil rebels in the final weeks of the country's civil war.

Zeid said the "one-off temporary deferral" was granted after the new Sri Lankan government indicated it was prepared to cooperate on a range of human rights issues "which the previous government had absolutely refused to do."

Following the surprise victory of Maithripala Sirisena in the January presidential election, Sri Lanka's new leadership urged the UN to give it more time, saying it wanted to set up a judicial mechanism to probe rights violations brought to light in the report.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the government was "ready to ensure that those who have violated human rights in Sri Lanka will be brought to justice."

"Unlike the previous government we are not in a state of denial," he said.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had faced broad international criticism for failing to investigate human rights abuses committed during the civil war.

Victims' reservations

Ahead of Monday's decision by the Human Rights Council, minority Tamils had urged the UN to go ahead with the planned release of its report. Rights organization Amnesty International also expressed concerns about the delay, and warned that the perpetrators of the alleged war crimes must not be allowed to escape punishment.

"Survivors of torture, including sexual abuse, people whose family members were killed or forcibly disappeared have waited a long time for this report," said Amnesty's Richard Bennett, adding that a delay is only justifiable if it leads to a stronger document.

Zeid also acknowledged victims' concerns, and pledged his "personal, absolute and unshakeable commitment that the report will be published by September."

"I want this report to have the maximum possible impact in ensuring a genuine and credible process of accountability and reconciliation in which the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparations are finally respected," he said.

At least 100,000 people were killed in the conflict in Sri Lanka between 1972 and 2009, according to UN estimates.

nm/cmk (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)