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Sri Lanka must have foreign judges in war crime investigation: HRW Australia Director

17 February 2017 - 99   - 0

Sri Lanka must employ international judges and prosecutors to ensure accountability during trials of those responsible for alleged war crimes against mostly Tamils, Human Rights Watch Australia's director Elaine Pearson told SBS News.

Ms Pearson's call, which echoes a recommendation in a 2015 UN Human Rights Council report of the OHCHR investigation of Sri Lanka, comes as Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesingh this week visited Canberra.

On Wednesday he beckoned asylum seekers who fled to Australia to return, assuring they would be "quite safe".

"They can come back to Sri Lanka and we will help them... but remember, they broke the law by attempting to come to Australia," he said..

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in 2015: "Our investigation has laid bare the horrific level of violations and abuses that occurred in Sri Lanka, including indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, harrowing accounts of torture and sexual violence, recruitment of children and other grave crimes."

Both the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were likely to have committed the abuses, the investigation found.

The investigation recommended Sri Lanka bring to trial those responsible for alleged war crimes in a court that was both domestic and international - where the international element would help ensure accountability.

Ms Pearson told SBS News she was concerned that work towards ensuring the international component of the justice process remained to be seen.

"Despite having agreed to the resolution, there has been a lack of progress on the international component… on establishing accountability," she said.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has also spoken out against including foreign judges in the justice process.

In an interview with BBC last year, Mr Sirisena said: "I will never agree to international involvement in this matter.

"We have more than enough specialists, experts and knowledgeable people in our country to solve our internal issues."

Ms Pearson said forgoing international involvement could deter those who had fled from coming back.

"The reality is, why would you want to come back when the prosecutors [against the Tamils] are still walking around?" she asked.

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