COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The United Nations' human rights chief sharply criticized Sri Lanka's government on Friday for attacking the integrity of a U.N. probe into alleged war crimes during the country's civil war.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein accused the government of conducting a campaign of "distortion and disinformation" about the investigation, and of attempting to prevent witnesses from submitting evidence. He called the actions an affront to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Sri Lanka has refused to cooperate with the probe into allegations of abuses by government soldiers and Tamil Tiger rebels in the final period of the country's civil war in 2009.
Zeid's predecessor appointed a three-member panel in June to look into the allegations.
On Tuesday, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Peiris "expressed strong displeasure at the selective and biased approach" of the probe and said it infringed "on the basic norms of justice and fair play."
Zeid rejected Peiris's accusation, saying his office had many years of experience with similar inquiries.
"The government of Sri Lanka has refused point blank to cooperate with the investigation despite being explicitly requested by the Human Rights Council to do so," Zeid said. He said the refusal "raises concerns about the integrity of the government in question. Why would governments with nothing to hide go to such extraordinary lengths to sabotage an impartial international investigation?"
He said Sri Lankan civic groups and human rights defenders have been subjected to surveillance, harassment and other forms of intimidation.
"A wall of fear has been created that has undoubtedly served to deter people from submitting evidence," he said. "The government's attempts to deter and intimidate individuals from submitting evidence to a U.N. investigation team is unacceptable conduct for any member state of the United Nations which has committed to uphold the U.N. Charter."
An earlier U.N. report said up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians may have been killed in the last months of the quarter-century civil war, and accused both sides of serious human rights violations. It said the government was suspected of deliberately shelling civilians and hospitals and blocking food and medicine for civilians trapped in the war zone. The rebels were accused of recruiting child soldiers and holding civilians as human shields and firing from among them.
After resisting calls for an internal investigation for years, the government appointed a three-member commission to inquire into cases of war disappearances. It recently added three foreign advisers to increase the panel's credibility.