Three leading international rights groups have turned down an invitation to testify before Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), on the grounds that it lacks the ability to advance accountability for war crimes.

In a joint statement, the Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International stated that “the Commission suffers from an inadequate mandate, a lack of independence, and little credibility to advance accountability.”

They also said that they would welcome an opportunity to appear before a genuine, credible effort to pursue political reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka, but that the Commission did not meet the minimum international standards for commissions of inquiry.

“There is little to be gained by appearing before such a fundamentally flawed commission. Accountability for war crimes in Sri Lanka demands an independent international investigation,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. President Mahinda Rajapaksa established the Commission in May 2010 to probe allegations of abuse during the war against the LTTE and reasons for the failure of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement. “His action was an apparent attempt to deflect calls for an international investigation into alleged laws-of-war violations during the final months of the quarter-century-long armed conflict between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which ended in May 2009. “The Commission’s mandate, which focuses on the breakdown of the 2002 ceasefire between the government and the LTTE, does not explicitly require it to investigate alleged war crimes during the conflict, nor has the Commission shown any apparent interest in investigating such allegations in its hearings to date. “The Commission also lacks independence, as its members include people who were senior government officials during the final years of the war and who were outspoken in defense of the government’s wartime conduct. Other members worked for the Sri Lankan government in the past,” it said.The organisations letter also cited the absence of any provisions to protect witnesses who may wish to testify.  “Moreover, despite the end of the conflict, the country is still operating under a State of Emergency that criminalizes political speech and under which there has been no meaningful investigation of attacks on government critics. This undermines the Commission’s ability to conduct credible investigations of alleged violations of international or national law,” the organisations said. “This Commission is nothing more than a cynical attempt by Sri Lanka to avoid a serious inquiry that would bring genuine accountability,” Roth said

Source: The Daily Mirror – 15.10.2010