Sri Lanka won't accept human rights monitors

By Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo,
Sydney Morning Herald
October 15, 2007
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SRI LANKA has rejected calls for a United Nations human rights monitoring mission to the island, as the UN's rights chief voiced concern over alleged widespread abuses.

"The weakness of the rule of law and prevalence of impunity is alarming," the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, said on Saturday at the end of a five-day visit. "There is a large number of reported killings, abductions and disappearances which remain unresolved."

Meanwhile, 11 Tamil Tiger rebels and a government soldier were killed yesterday in separate clashes in Sri Lanka's restive northern region, the military said.

A UN monitoring mission would help "establish a more credible and clearly independent voice", Ms Arbour said.

"One of the major human rights shortcomings in Sri Lanka is rooted in the absence of reliable and authoritative information on the credible allegations of human rights abuses."

The Sri Lankan Human Rights Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, who attended a news conference with Ms Arbour, dismissed any type of monitoring mission out of hand.

"The Government's position is very clear: we are not willing to discuss in any way the UN presence in Sri Lanka for monitoring purposes," Mr Samarasinghe said. "Neither are we ready to discuss the opening of an office of the high commissioner in Sri Lanka."

Instead, Mr Samarasinghe said, the Government was willing to work with Ms Arbour's office and others in sharing technical expertise and training local staff to face human rights challenges.

Ms Arbour said the Government told her of its initiatives to address allegations of human rights abuses, but "there has yet to be an adequate and credible public accounting for the vast majority of these incidents".

She said: "In the absence of more vigorous investigations, prosecution and convictions, it is hard to see how this will come to an end."

The civil war has killed an estimated 70,000 people since it began in 1983. A ceasefire was reached in 2002 to pave the way for a peace deal between the Government and Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for a homeland for the Tamil minority, but it fell apart nearly two years ago.

The renewed fighting has killed an estimated 5000 people. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch said in August that more than 1100 abductions or "disappearances" had been reported between January 2006 and June 2007, many of them blamed on the Government and its armed allies.

On Saturday, about five rebel boats attacked two army patrol craft off the Jaffna peninsula, military officials said.

They said soldiers on shore sank a rebel boat with an artillery barrage, killing three crew, but one military boat was missing, with three soldiers aboard.

The rebels said they had found the bodies of five solders but brought only three ashore because the other two were badly damaged. They handed over the bodies to Red Cross officials, who are expected to return them to the military.

Associated Press, Reuters