WSJ: UNSG Urges Sri Lanka to Speed Up War Reconciliation

by Uditha Jayasinghe, ‘The Wall Street Journal,’ New York, September 2, 2016

Ban Ki-moon says victims of country’s lengthy civil war need justice

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Friday.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Friday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday said victims of Sri Lanka’s decadeslong war “cannot wait forever” for justice, and urged the country to speed up its reconciliation process as it seeks to heal the wounds of a lengthy civil war.

The bloodshed ended in 2009 when former President Mahinda Rajapaksa crushed the separatist Tamil Tigers. A U.N. report in 2012 estimated that as many as 40,000 civilians died in the last phase of the conflict and said war crimes could have been committed by both sides. Thousands of people, mostly minority Tamils, disappeared during the conflict, while land was also seized.

Mr. Ban, on a three-day visit to the country, called for Sri Lanka to allow foreign expertise to help in its transitional justice process, fast track the land return to Tamils and restore judicial accountability to investigate allegations of war crimes.

Mr. Ban praised the new administration for its truth seeking and accountability mechanisms, but called for swifter action.

“More needs to be done. Victims cannot wait forever,” Mr. Ban told reporters Friday. “They deserve to have their voices heard, and they deserve credible transparent transitional justice mechanisms.”

“I also urge you to speed up the return of land so that the remaining communities of displaced people can return home. In parallel, the size of the military force in the north and east could be reduced, helping to build trust and reduce tensions.”

President Maithripala Sirisena, who came to power in January 2015, has made efforts to address some rights issues. His government has returned land to Tamils, reduced militarization in the former war-torn north and started consultation on a new constitution. It has also passed legislation to begin investigations into the disappearances.

But Mr. Sirisena has stopped short of agreeing to a recommendation made in a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution adopted last September, that the country set up a “hybrid court” with foreign judges to investigate allegations of war crimes and systemic abuses by the military.

Following his meeting with the secretary-general, the president’s office said Mr. Sirisena had requested more time for reconciliation measures to be put in place.

Pro-Rajapaksa supporters demonstrated outside the U.N. compound in Colombo and the main railway station demanding an end to foreign “interference” in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process.

Nationalists held boards saying: “We don’t want your help. Go home” and photo blowups from previous suicide bombings with the slogan, “U.N., where were you?”

Hundreds of family members of people, mostly Tamils, who had disappeared during the war gathered in northern capital Jaffna to seek U.N. intervention to find their missing loved ones and urge for more accountability from the government.

“My husband was taken away in 2006 when this area was under army control. We want answers. We want to know what happened,” said Saro Sripavan who was waiting for the arrival of the secretary-general.

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