By: Abdul Ruff

Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, apparently fearing punishment for his alleged role in war crimes against ethnic Tamils during the 26-year-old civil war that ended in 2009, said he opposes the international war crimes apparatus created by the United Nations and urged all parties in the island nation to oppose the passage of new laws aimed at prosecuting members of its armed forces.

The United Nations report was released in Geneva on Oct. 1. It called for suspects accused of war crimes to be prosecuted, particularly during the final months of the conflict. The alleged war crimes include attacks on civilians and civilian buildings; executions of combatants and prisoners; enforced disappearances by the Sri Lankan military and paramilitary groups backed by them and acute shortages of food, medicine, and clean water for civilians trapped in the war zone. (See related story: UN Seeks More Accountability for Sri Lankan Civil War)

Rajapaksa disowns any alleged crimes, let alone war crimes although he has also been suspected of a subsequent reign of terror against his critics after the war ended. A number of journalists have disappeared and some have been murdered by unknown suspects.

Former President says no UN jurisdiction

In a speech delivered at a Buddhist temple in the capital Colombo, the former president, who was upset by Maithripala Sirisena, in the presidential election in January, said he opposes a resolution passed against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, and warned that such a resolution would put the country at risk.

A panel of experts appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise him on the issue of accountability with regard to alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the civil war found “credible allegations” that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Sri Lankan military. 

The panel has called on the secretary general to conduct an independent international inquiry into the alleged violations of international law. In March 2014 the United Nations Human Rights Council authorized an international investigation into the alleged war crimes.

Sri Lanka a Geneva Conventions Signatory

War crimes are prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, of which Sri Lanka is a signatory. In 2002 the International Criminal Court was created by the Rome Statute to prosecute individuals for serious crimes, such as war crimes. Sri Lanka is not a signatory of the Rome Statute. Therefore it is only possible for the ICC to investigate and prosecute war crimes in Sri Lanka if the UN Security Council were to refer Sri Lanka to the ICC.

Rajapaksa said his government did not cooperate with the probe mainly because it was instituted outside the established procedure of the UN Human Rights Council.  Apparently, he sought to use the new Sirisena government to block the UN investigation on war crimes but failed. Although Sirisena spoke to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 30, he said his government supports a “fresh universal approach” that deals honestly with the past while pursuing sustainable development.