NEW YORK — International human rights groups declined on Thursday to appear before a Sri Lankan probe into the end of the country's civil war, saying the procedure was flawed and lacked credibility.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), London-based Amnesty International and Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) snubbed an invitation to testify before Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
"There is little to be gained by appearing before such a fundamentally flawed commission," said HRW's Executive Director Kenneth Roth in a statement.
"Accountability for war crimes in Sri Lanka demands an independent international investigation."
The rights groups have long accused government forces of ordering civilians into a "no-fire zone" and shelling them in the final stages of fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger separatist rebels in early 2009.
The three groups have said that up to 30,000 ethnic Tamil civilians perished in the final months of the conflict, which ended when the rebels were wiped out in May.
In a joint letter to the LLRC, they said it would be impossible to have a free and independent inquiry in Sri Lanka even more than 12 months since the end of fighting on the island nation.
"Our decision to decline the LLRC?s invitation to testify also stems from Sri Lanka?s long history of failed and politicised commissions of inquiry," said the letter, a copy of which was released to the press.
"In the current context of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, even an independent and fully empowered commission would face grave difficulties in pursuing accountability or contributing to lasting reconciliation.
"Even though the war is over, a state of emergency continues to be in place.
"Anti-terrorism laws and emergency regulations grant extraordinary and arbitrary powers to the military and police and continue to be used to target critics of the government.
"Tamils in the north are living under a heavy military presence," the letter said.
Sri Lanka has denied any civilians were killed by its troops and blamed Tamil Tigers for using human shields. Colombo has also rejected an independent international probe and refused to allow UN investigators into the island.
Amnesty International repeated its allegations that Sri Lanka's probe, headed by a retired attorney general, was just a cover-up.
Amnesty's Asia-Pacific Deputy Director Madhu Malhotra said Sri Lanka's investigation fell far short of the standards required to address issues of accountability after nearly 40 years of fighting on the island nation.
"The LLRC's mandate, its composition, its procedures, and the human rights environment in which it is operating all conspire to make a safe and satisfactory outcome for victims of human rights violations and their families extremely unlikely," Malhotra said.
"Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the lack of any provisions for witness protection and the fact that former officials who have publicly defended the Sri Lankan government against allegations of war crimes serve on the commission."
The LLRC began public hearings in August and is said to be taking testimony from ethnic Tamils in the island's former war zones, but the international media have been barred from travelling to the area to cover the proceedings.
It has a mandate to assess why a ceasefire in February 2002 broke down in 2008 and led to renewed fighting.
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