Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena rejects UN call for probe into civil war atrocities

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena (2nd R) watches on as the national flag is hoisted during the island's 69th Independence Day celebrations in Colombo on February 4, 2017. (AFP photo)
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has rejected a United Nations call for allowing international judges to investigate alleged crimes during the country’s civil war era.
“A charge sheet is now brought against our forces with a demand to include foreign judges to try them,” Sirisena said Sunday, adding, “I am not going to allow non-governmental organizations to dictate how to run my government. I will not listen to their calls to prosecute my troops.”
The remarks, circulated by Sirisena’s office, came two days after the UN expressed concern about the slow progress of Sri Lanka in dealing with alleged cases of war crimes in the past. The UN called on Colombo to allow joint courts to try suspected criminals and establish a special tribunal to investigate the alleged killing of up to 40,000 Tamil people by government forces in the final months of civil war in 2009. More than 100,000 people were killed during the 37-year war with both government forces and rebels from the Tamil Tigers group committing atrocities.
Sirisena, a member of the majority Sinhalese community who has ruled Sri Lanka on a coalition since the ouster of strongman leader Mahinda Rajapakse, had promised accountability for excesses carried out by the largely Sinhalese military. That earned him the praise of international observers while the Tamils also declared support for the move.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena (R) speaks with the Australian High Commissioner Bryce Hutchesson (L) at the start of a ceremony in Colombo to mark Australian national day on January 25, 2017. (AFP photo)
The remarks on Sunday, however, marked a sharp shift in Sirisena’s policy toward accountability and reconciliation. The defiant tone even contrasted with the official position of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry, which asked the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for more time and promised that the island nation of 21 million remained united and committed in its justice-seeking approach. The UNHRC had urged establishing the joint tribunal two years ago and Sri Lanka had never rebuffed the idea.
The UN acknowledged Friday that coalition politics in the unity government of Sri Lanka were likely to blame for the slow pace of progress of the investigation.  
The main political party representing the Tamil minority had urged the UN last week to hold Sirisena’s administration to account, saying the government has failed to deliver on its promises regarding the investigation.