Sri Lanka hampers legal redress for rights abuses -ICJ

GENEVA Thu Nov 1, 2012 12:09am GMT

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's government has made it all but impossible for victims of human rights abuses to get justice, a Geneva-based human rights body that monitors legal matters said on Thursday.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), grouping 60 prominent judges and lawyers from around the world, said the judiciary in Sri Lanka was under increasing attack and its independence was threatened.

"Victims and survivors of major human rights violations do not receive redress, and perpetrators are not brought to justice," the ICJ declared in a 150-page report, "Authority without Accountability: The Crisis of Impunity in Sri Lanka."

"The absence of justice removes an important deterrent to future perpetrators," said the report, compiled by the body's Asia Director Sam Zarifi.

The administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa had sought to evade demands at home and abroad for justice for victims of "serious violations of international law" by both sides in the long civil war that ended in 2009, the report added.

With recent physical attacks on judges and judicial officials in the country adding to the problem, the ICJ said Sri Lanka was in "serious breach of (its) international obligation to protect and promote human rights".

Earlier this month a senior High Court judge who heads a key commission that appoints and transfers judges and magistrates was pistol-whipped by gunmen after complaining of official pressure on the body.

International human rights groups assert that such attacks and death threats against even mild critics of the Rajapaksa administration are carried out by government supporters or specially-trained hit squads.

After the latest incident, Rajapaksa condemned the attack and ordered the police to bring its perpetrators to justice, an official statement said. Police said they had launched a special operation to arrest the culprits.

The 30-year-long civil war between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels who at one time controlled large swathes of the north of the island state is estimated to have left tens of thousands of people dead or injured.

International investigators, whose findings have been rejected by the Sri Lankan authorities, have said the army committed large-scale abuses and was responsible for many civilian deaths in the final stages of the war.

The ICJ said that the failure to submit those abuses and others committed by the Tigers to a court was a symptom of the overall lack of accountability in the country, where rights groups say abductions and attacks on media are also common.

(Reporting by Robert Evans; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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