Michelle Bachelet accused Sri Lanka of reneging on promises to ensure justice for the thousands of civilians killed in the final months of the 37-year-old conflict that claimed more than 100,000 dead and ended in May 2009 in a bloodbath with the crushing of the separatist rebellion of the Tamil Tigers.
“National initiatives for accountability and reconciliation have repeatedly failed to deliver results, entrenching impunity deeper and exacerbating victims’ mistrust of the system“, said the High Commissioner quoted in a report obtained before its publication.
The government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has reversed certain advances made by previous cabinets in the area of human rights protection, the report said.
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Surveillance of human rights activists and dissidents has increased and a climate of self-censorship has developed, the report adds.
Mr Rajapaksa won the 2019 presidential election with a nationalist platform including a promise that the military who crushed the Tamil rebels would not be prosecuted.
Mr. Rajapaksa was the top defense official when government forces defeated the guerrillas. His brother Mahinda, currently his prime minister, was then president.
Human rights activists accuse Sri Lankan forces of killing at least 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final months of the conflict, figures disputed by the government.
Sri Lankan troops have been accused, in several UN reports, of carrying out indiscriminate bombing, hitting hospitals, executing surrendered rebels and being responsible for the disappearance of thousands of Tamils.
The president, a retired lieutenant colonel, threatened last year to leave the UN Human Rights Council if he maintains his charges against the military.
Sri Lanka, not having joined the ICC, remains outside its jurisdiction. But, if no other state can summon a non-signatory to the ICC, on the other hand the UN has the power.
In her report, Ms. Bachelet for the first time recommended “a process for referring the situation in Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court“and called for action against war criminals, including Tamil rebels.
– “Asset freeze” –
In addition, “member states can actively investigate and prosecute international crimes committed by all parties in Sri Lanka in their own national courts“, she underlined.
This 17-page report also calls for possible targeted sanctions, “such as asset freezes and travel bans, against suspected perpetrators“of rights violations.
General Silva, a field commander at the height of the separatist war, is already subject to a travel ban to the United States.
Sri Lanka has resisted repeated calls for an independent investigation, with the Rajapaksa brothers denying war crimes had been committed.
However, President Rajapaksa, in a turnaround last week, announced that Sri Lanka would investigate some charges.
He gave six months for a commission of inquiry to examine the investigations into the allegations of “human rights violations“and”serious violations of international humanitarian law“.
According to the UN human rights body, the president has undermined previous police investigations since his return to power and possibly contributed to the destruction of evidence.
Ms Bachelet called on member states to take action to preserve evidence in key cases such as the murder of 17 aid workers at a French charity in August 2006 and the 2009 assassination of the editor of the newspaper Lasantha Wickrematunge .
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