GENEVA: Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and two top human rights lawyers were named on Wednesday as advisers to a U.N. inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka which Colombo wants to halt.
The U.N. Human Rights Council voted in March to set up the investigation into crimes allegedly committed by both Sri Lankan state forces and Tamil rebels during the conflict that ended in 2009, saying the government had failed to investigate properly.
Besides Ahtisaari, the 12-strong U.N. staff on the inquiry will be advised by Silvia Cartwright, a former Governor-General and High Court judge of New Zealand, and Asma Jahangir, a former president of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. “I am proud that three such distinguished experts have agreed to assist this important and challenging investigation,” U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said in a statement.
Diplomatic sources say Jahangir was among those shortlisted to replace Pillay as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, a job that eventually went to Jordan’s Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein. Sri Lanka opposes the inquiry, which will run until April 2015, arguing that it is doing enough to investigate war crimes allegedly committed in the final stages of the 26-year conflict, when the army defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.
In March, its ambassador called the inquiry “counter-productive” and “inimical to the interests of the people of Sri Lanka”. Pillay urged the government to cooperate and said the investigation would still go ahead if it did not. The U.N. Human Rights Council has in recent years set up investigations into Syria and North Korea and may decide this week to begin another, into Eritrea.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan troops suffering from post-traumatic stress after their war with Tamil rebels will for the first time have a residential facility in which to meditate, a monk said Wednesday.
Diyasenpura Wimala said he was establishing a formal meditation centre just outside the capital Colombo. “We will be able to accommodate about 100 people at a time with the new centre I am starting,” the monk told AFP. He said he had conducted smaller programmes for security forces in the past two years for about 3,000 personnel. Work on the residential centre will begin Thursday at a hillside location in the district of Gampaha in the presence of military top brass.
Troops crushed separatist Tamil Tiger guerrillas and declared an end to 37 years of ethnic bloodshed in May 2009. The UN estimates that at least 100,000 people were killed in the conflict, one of the bloodiest in Asia. “Some soldiers have been involved in violent incidents because of the effect the war had on them,” the monk said. “Meditation can play a big role in helping those who have suffered severe stress.”
Army spokesman Jayanath Jayaweera said the military has been conducting small-scale meditation programmes, but the latest initiative would be the first residential facility for troops to de-stress in a spiritual environment. “This meditation facility for security forces will be the first of its kind in South Asia,” Jayaweera said, adding that the military fully supported the initiative of the monk.
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