Sri Lanka briefs UN rights official on resolution pullout

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Sri Lankan diplomat has briefed the president of the U.N. Human Rights Council on the government’s decision to withdraw from a 2015 resolution calling for an investigation into alleged human rights violations committed during the country’s long civil war.

Foreign Ministry Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha met Human Rights Council President Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger in Geneva and informed her that Sri Lanka’s Cabinet has decided to withdraw from the resolution, the foreign ministry said Saturday. Sri Lanka’s prime minister had announced on Wednesday the government’s decision to withdraw.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena will formally announce the decision in his speech at the 43rd session of the council next Wednesday, the ministry said. Gunawardena will also respond to an oral update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and later meet with her.

Sri Lanka co-sponsored a resolution in 2015 along with 11 other countries, also including the United States, Britain, Australia and Germany, calling for an investigation into alleged serious human rights violations against both government forces and the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels in the island’s civil war, which ended in 2009.

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The resolution also called for providing answers on the fate of thousands who reportedly went missing in the war and obtaining the support of international prosecutors and judges in trials against alleged perpetrators.

The council has since given Sri Lanka two two-year extensions to implement the resolution.

Sri Lanka’s armed forces crushed the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, ending the 26-year civil war. The war’s final stages in particular came under severe international criticism over heavy civilian casualties.

A conservative U.N. estimate said at least 100,000 people were killed in the war, but a later report prepared by U.N. experts said as may as 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians may have been killed in the final months of the fighting alone.

Another internal review called for by then-Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon on the conduct of the United Nations and its agencies reported that the U.N. had failed in its responsibilities in protecting civilians in Sri Lanka.

Current Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa played a key role in the war as a top defense official under the presidency of his elder brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is now the prime minister.

Mahinda Rajapaksa resisted international calls for investigations and the country was facing possible sanctions when he was defeated in the 2015 presidential election.

The government of Rajapaksa’s successor, Maithripala Sirisena, co-sponsored the resolution as a means to ease international pressure.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to withdraw from the resolution ahead of last November’s presidential election.

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