COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A human rights group has accused Sri Lanka’s government of failing to make real progress in punishing those responsible for the execution-style slaying of 17 workers for a French aid agency seven years ago, despite repeated international calls for action.
“Sri Lanka’s history of inaction on even prominent cases with strong evidence demonstrates the need for concerted international action,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
The Sri Lankan employees of Action Against Hunger were found dead in August 2006 in a region that was then rocked by heavy fighting between government soldiers and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels. At the time, European monitors said they were convinced government troops were responsible, but the government blamed the rebels.
The government, under intense international pressure, appointed a presidential commission in 2007 to probe wartime abuses including the killings of the aid workers. In 2009, the commission exonerated the military of any involvement in the massacre. The commission’s report was presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa but has never been made public.
“The Rajapaksa government is good at throwing bones to the international community, but not at taking serious measures to find and punish those responsible for serious abuses,” James Ross, the group’s legal and policy director, said in the statement Wednesday.
Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in May 2009 after the government defeated the Tamil Tigers, who were fighting to create a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils in the island’s northern and eastern regions. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people were killed in the conflict.
A U.N. investigation indicated that the ethnic Sinhalese-dominated government might have killed as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians in the war’s final months.
The government initially denied that any significant civilian deaths occurred, but later agreed to investigate instances of alleged abuses identified by its own war inquiry. It has argued that its own investigation should suffice, but international pressure has been growing for an independent probe into possible war crimes.
In March, the U.N. Human Rights Council approved a U.S.-backed resolution calling on Sri Lanka to more thoroughly investigate alleged war crimes committed by both sides during the conflict.
“Governments seeking justice for the victims of atrocities during Sri Lanka’s long armed conflict should publicly demand an international inquiry,” Ross said.
There was no immediate comment from the Sri Lankan government. Officials have repeatedly rejected calls for an international probe as a violation of Sri Lankan sovereignty.