The US wouldn’t share information gathered by Ambassador Stephen J. Rapp of State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice during his almost week-long visit to Sri Lanka with the government, US Embassy Spokesperson Juliana A. Spaven sad. “Embassy officials meet on a regular basis with a broad range of individuals around the country and we won’t characterize those discussions. Ambassador Rapp’s statement speaks for itself.”
She was responding to a query by The Island whether Colombo based US embassy officials had met those who allegedly witnessed Sri Lankan troops committing battlefield atrocities before Ambassador Rapp’s arrival in Colombo on January 6th.
The Island sought a clarification in the wake of Ms. Spaven’s claim in a statement issued at the conclusion of Ambassador Rapp’s visit on January 11 that the envoy had got an opportunity to listen to eyewitness accounts of serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law including those that occurred at the end of the war.” Having claimed to have direct access to eyewitnesses, the spokesperson urged Sri Lanka to seek the truth through independent and credible investigations and where relevant have prosecutions.
Asked if the US had inquired from eyewitnesses about whether they had furnished information to UNSG Ban Ki moon’s Panel of Experts (PoE) which investigated alleged accountability issues in Sri Lanka, the embassy spokesperson reiterated the mission couldn’t characterise those discussions.
Ambassador Rapp visited Sri Lanka from January 6-11 to meet government and political leaders, civil society, and to tour former conflict zones, the spokesperson said.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said that if the US was genuinely interested in an independent and credible investigation it should assist the GoSL efforts by furnishing whatever information Ambassador Rapp collected. Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that the US shouldn’t deprive the GoSL of an opportunity to verify all available evidence.
The Defence Secretary said that the US claimed having eyewitness accounts of war crimes close on the heels of accusing the Sri Lankan Army of killing hundreds of families in artillery assault on Iranapalai in January 2009. “The US should confront us with eyewitness accounts which it claimed to have gathered during Ambassador Rapp’s recently concluded visit.”
Responding to another query, Defence Secretary pointed out that UN Chief’s PoE, too, had adopted a similar stance as regards ‘war crimes evidence’. It had decided against giving Sri Lanka an opportunity to examine evidence in its hands until 2031, he said. Even then the release of the identities of those who had made allegations would be subject to a further appraisal, the Defence Secretary said. Quoting the PoE report, he pointed out that 2,300 persons whom the panel claimed to have made over 4,000 representations couldn’t be acceptable as victims unless they were ready to identify themselves. No government would accept such allegations, the Defence Secretary said, alleging that an attempt was being made to overwhelm the government by propagating lies ahead of the forthcoming Geneva human rights session.