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Sirisena favours domestic probe
December 20, 2014
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COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s main opposition presidential candidate said on Friday that the country cannot be charged with war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC), but he will launch a domestic inquiry if he wins a January election.

Maithripala Sirisena said in a policy statement that Sri Lanka has not ratified the statute establishing the international court and therefore is not subject to it. He said he would instead institute an investigation by a local independent court. He also pledged to protect everyone who contributed to the defeat of Tamil Tiger separatists in the country’s civil war from international action.

His main rival, incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has asked voters to give him a third term in office in the Jan.8 election to stop what he calls an overseas attempt to take him and his soldiers to the International Criminal Court.

The UN Human Rights Council is investigating allegations of war crimes by the government and Tamil Tiger rebels during the civil war. An earlier UN inquiry said at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians died, most from government shelling, in the final months of the war, which ended in 2009.

The government is accused of deliberately shelling civilians and hospitals, and blocking food and medicine for civilians trapped in the war zone. The Tamil Tigers are accused of recruiting child soldiers, holding civilians as human shields and killing those trying to escape.

Sirisena, a former health minister, defected from Rajapaksa’s government last month to become the main opposition candidate. He is backed by the opposition United National Party.

Sirisena, who has accused Rajapaksa of creating an autocracy, has promised to trim extensive executive powers if he becomes president and make the office accountable to Parliament and the courts.

Sirisena also promised a balanced foreign policy, in contrast to the Rajapaksa administration’s increasing closeness to China to the anger of immediate neighbour India.

“I will negotiate to get back the ‘GSP-plus’ (generalised scheme of preferences) to ensure we export more and create more jobs,” Sirisena said while releasing his party’s 63-page manifesto.

He did not outline what his approach with the EU would be, but his manifesto promised that if elected, his party would set up independent bodies to run the civil service, the police, the judiciary and the elections department.

The refusal to commit to good governance conditions led to Sri Lanka’s exports losing preferential tariffs from member states across the European Union in 2010.

According to the manifesto, a Sirisena administration would also set up a special domestic court to investigate war crimes allegations, a long-standing demand of neighbouring India and Western nations, who in March established a UN probe after Colombo insisted that no abuses had taken place.

“Sri Lanka is rapidly getting isolated from the international community,” he said. “Equal relations will be established with India, China, Pakistan and Japan — the principal countries of Asia — while improving friendly relations with emerging Asian nations such as Thailand, Indonesia and Korea without distinction.”

The controversial impeachment of the chief justice was criticised by the UN Human Rights Council as well as other governments as an assault on the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka.


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