Sri Lanka will not cooperate with UN war probe: Minister

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris speaks to foreign media during an announcement that his government will not cooperate with a UN probe into alleged war crimes by government forces in Colombo on April 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris speaks to foreign media during an announcement that his government will not cooperate with a UN probe into alleged war crimes by government forces in Colombo on April 7, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - Sri Lanka on Monday rejected calls for cooperation with a UN investigation into war crimes and vowed it will not subject itself to the jurisdiction of the world's highest rights body.

Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris said Sri Lanka will not allow United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to launch an investigation mandated under a US-initiated resolution adopted last month.

"We will not submit ourselves to this process," Peiris told the Foreign Correspondents' Association of Sri Lanka in Colombo.

"Sri Lanka will not participate in this inquiry." Peiris's remarks came a week after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked Colombo to engage "constructively" and cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to implement a resolution calling for an international inquiry into atrocities by both sides.

President Mahinda Rajapakse told AFP soon after the motion that he rejected it.

However, the foreign minister's statement Monday was the strongest refusal yet to cooperate with any UN probe.

The UN has also set aside a budget of nearly US$1.5 million (S$1.89 million) for the investigation and the office of the High Commissioner is expected to present a final report by March 2015.

"We have taken a clear policy decision that we will not subject ourselves to the jurisdiction of the (UN Human Rights) Commissioner," Peiris said.

However, he added Colombo remains engaged with other UN agencies addressing a wide range of other issues from health and education to war-displaced people.

Asked if Colombo will try to stop foreigners visiting the island as part of the UN probe, Peiris said: "No one can come here without the cooperation of the government of Sri Lanka." He insisted Colombo will press ahead with its own reconciliation process five years after crushing Tamil Tiger rebels and declaring an end to 37 years of ethnic war which the UN estimates claimed at least 100,000 lives.

The UNHRC adopted the resolution calling for a "comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka" on March 27.

It is a serious censure of Sri Lanka, where thousands of civilians are said to have been killed in the final months of fighting between Tamil separatist and government forces.

Rights groups have said that up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed by Sri Lankan forces while defeating Tiger rebels, a charge Colombo has repeatedly denied.

The Tigers have been accused by rights groups of using civilians as human shields and of conscripting children into their ranks.