Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka abuses probe substandard, say foreign experts

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By Simon Gardner

COLOMBO, June 11 (Reuters) - A Sri Lankan probe into a series of rights abuses blamed on the security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels is riddled with flaws and fails to meet international standards, foreign observers said on Monday.

Experts appointed by the international community to observe a presidential commission probe abuses -- including the massacre of 17 aid workers that Nordic truce monitors have blamed on the -- military saw "hardly any noticeable progress".

"We remain concerned the current measures taken by the government of Sri Lanka and the commission to address issues such as the independence of the commission, timeliness and witness protection are not adequate and do not satisfy international norms and standards," the panel said in statement.

The panel said it was also concerned that the Attorney General's department acts as legal counsel to the commission, appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa amid outrage over the aid worker killings and widespread rights violations.

The fact that members of the Attorney General's department now aiding the probe were involved in initial investigations into some of the 16 rights abuse cases being probed, means they may find they are investigating themselves, tha panel added.

"We consider these to be serious conflicts of interest, which lack transparency and compromise national standards of independence and impartiality," it said.

WITNESS SAFETY

The experts are also worried by what they say are insufficient measures to ensure the protection of witnesses, particularly as reports of abductions and disappearances mushroom amid a new chapter in a two-decade civil war that has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983.

"We are concerned that there are no adequate victim and witness protection provisions under Sri Lankan law," the 11-member panel said.

The presidential commission and Attorney General both issued statements of their own in response, rejecting the criticism and saying they believed international standards had been met. The commission established a witness assistance unit this month.

Rights groups have reported hundreds of abductions and disappearances blamed on both sides. Rajapaksa argues many of those reports are fake and designed to discredit his government and denies the security forces are involved.

The panel's harsh review of the probe comes against a backdrop of rights violations, assassinations and heavy fighting between state forces and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The massacre of 17 local staff of Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger) in August 2006 was the worst attack on aid workers since a 2003 suicide bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

In the days after the killings, Nordic truce monitors were prevented from reaching the site in the northeastern town of Muttur. They are convinced only the security forces could have been behind the killings, something the government strenuously denies.

The bodies have been exhumed and examined by forensic experts. But no arrests have been made.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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