Ex-president Mahinda Rajapakse’s brother denounced yesterday the UN human rights chief’s visit to Sri Lanka as a “big joke”, as the former regime stepped up opposition to a UN-backed war crimes probe.
Former president Rajapakse and his brother, ex-defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, have signed a petition against the probe into allegations of thousands of civilian deaths during the final months of Sri Lanka’s separatist war.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein arrived on Saturday for a four-day visit to gauge the island’s progress in investigating war-time atrocities, before he delivers an assessment to the UN Human Rights Council in March.
Gotabhaya Rajapakse accused authorities of arranging for Zeid to meet only sympathisers of Tamil rebels, who were crushed by government troops in 2009 following a 37-year war for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils.
“He can’t come here for a day and expect to understand the situation. He is only meeting one side,” Gotabhaya, who was defence secretary during the war’s finale, told reporters in Colombo. “It is a big joke.”
Flanked by the ex-president, Gotabhaya repeated the former regime’s longstanding position that no war crimes were committed by government troops in the final push.
After defeating Rajapakse at presidential elections a year ago, his successor Maithripala Sirisena agreed to investigate allegations troops killed up to 40,000 Tamil civilians in the
Zeid on Sunday visited the former war zones of Jaffna and Trincomalee in the island’s north and northeast.
He told local Tamil leaders on the Jaffna peninsula, which saw some of the worst fighting, that there should not be a general amnesty, but a swift legal process
to deal with rebel detainees.
“As a general principle it is not acceptable to grant amnesties to those convicted of the most serious crimes — war crimes or crimes against humanity,” a spokesman for the rights chief said.
But the UN would welcome a release of those against whom there was insufficient evidence.
His visit comes after the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution late last year calling for an investigation into wartime atrocities committed by both the government-backed military and Tamil Tiger
The aim of Zeid’s trip is to gauge progress of the investigation ahead of a report to the UN rights council he is set to deliver in March.
“I have been looking forward to coming and I am looking forward to meeting both the highest officials of the state as well as representatives of all
communities,” Zeid said.
More than 200 suspected Tamil separatists remain in prison, many without charge.
Tamil political and civil society groups have long demanded their unconditional release, though the government has refused a blanket amnesty.
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