The United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday agreed to defer the release of a landmark inquiry into possible war crimes in Sri Lanka, after an intense lobbying campaign by the country’s newly elected government and what the United Nations’ top rights official described as “signals of broad cooperation” from Sri Lankan officials.
The release of the report on suspected rights abuses during a quarter-century of war with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has been put off until September. The report’s release was originally scheduled for March.
In a sense, this puts the onus on the Sri Lankan government not only to demonstrate cooperation with the United Nations inquiry, but also to show whether it can credibly mount its own investigation into possible wartime atrocities and whether it can take on criminal prosecutions of the most serious offenders.
A United Nations panel of experts in 2011 found what it called credible allegations of serious human rights abuses by the previous government, including large-scale shelling of civilian areas. It also said it found credible allegations that the Tamil Tigers had used civilians as shields and killed those who tried to flee rebel-held zones.
The previous government had been accused of actively obstructing the United Nations inquiry, not least by barring its investigators from the country. Also, its critics pointed out, the government did not conduct a credible investigation into possible war crimes committed by its own officials as they defeated the Tamil Tigers’ notoriously brutal insurgency in 2009.
As a result, in 2014 the United States, Britain and European countries pushed through a resolution at the human rights council authorizing the United Nations inquiry.