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War crimes

February 27, 2012

Encouraged by the government, thousands of people have marched in Sri Lanka’s cities and towns against a proposed UN Human Rights Council resolution on alleged rights violations and ‘war crimes.'

Government supporters shout slogans during a street march in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Protesters are out en masseImage: dapd

Protests took place all over Sri Lanka on Monday against a proposed resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva demanding accountability for war crimes that were allegedly committed in the last phase of the Sri Lankan civil war, which came to a bloody end in 2009.

Thousands of people took to the streets in 150 cities and towns to support the government-backed protests, which were timed to coincide with the beginning of the council's four-week session in Geneva. Demonstrations were also held in the north and east in areas that were then controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels.

The government call for demonstrations also came as public anger was growing over a rise in the cost of living triggered by an increase in fuel prices.

Credible allegations of war crimes

Sri Lankan army soldiers receive internally displaced ethnic Tamil civilians in Kariyalamullivaikal, Sri Lanka
The conflict in Sri Lanka displaced hundreds of thousands of civilansImage: AP

A UN panel report recently concluded that allegations both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers committed serious abuses that could amount to war crimes were credible.

It is difficult to tell how many people were killed during the final stages of the conflict. The UN estimates tens of thousands of civilians died. Human rights organizations have said 40,000 and the Sri Lankan government has said some 8,000 civilians died in the final five months.

The US has announced its support for the resolution that calls on Sri Lanka to conduct an investigation into the alleged abuses. Colombo for its part has said the resolution interferes in its internal affairs.

Sri Lankans wave their national flag during a victory rally to celebrate the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels
The civil war came to an end in May 2009 after more than two decades of conflictImage: AP

"We will be explaining at the human rights sessions (in Geneva) later in the day, the measures taken to restore normalcy in the country after the end of the conflict and the steps taken to address accountability issues," Mahinda Samarasinghe, co-chair of Sri Lanka's Permanent Standing Committee on Human Rights told state-run radio from Geneva.

"We will question the need for such a resolution against Sri Lanka as we believe we have taken a number of steps to address issues rising from the conflict," he said.

Anti-US protests

Government supporters shout in Colombo
The government organized the protests as public anger over the rising cost of living grewImage: dapd

Some 3,000 people carrying placards urging the US not to "support terrorism" marched toward the US embassy in Colombo on Monday but were halted by police. There was no immediate comment from the embassy but diplomatic sources said US nationals had been warned about the protests.

One of the march organizers, Mahinda Kahandagamage, told the Associated Press (AP) news agency that a letter had been delivered to the embassy condemning US support for the resolution.

"The country has just been liberated from a 30-year-old war. Our lives were in darkness. But now there is no fear of bomb blasts, no sound of gunfire. But, now America is trying to bring a proposal against our country in Geneva. We all must get together to defeat that effort," he said.

The US representative to the UN Human Rights Council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, said last week that if Sri Lanka continued to resist the resolution all options would remain, including the call for an outside investigation.

In the past, Sri Lanka has avoided censure at UN meetings thanks to support from Russia, China and India.

act / ss (dpa, AP, AFP)