In a step that infuriated Sri Lankan leaders, the country was urged to investigate alleged war crimes from its bloody civil war, in a resolution passed Thursday by the chief human rights body at the United Nations.
U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said she hoped the resolution would be “an important step in a process of helping the Sri Lankan people move toward a lasting peace.” Human rights groups praised it as a move toward holding people accountable for abuses that have continued beyond the war.
The vote in the U.N. Human Rights Council passed with 24 countries in favor, 15 against and eight abstentions. China, Russia and Cuba were among the countries that opposed the resolution. Neighboring India backed the resolution, facing pressure from political parties in Tamil Nadu to take a strong stand against atrocities.
"As a neighbor with thousands of years of cordial relations with Sri Lanka, with deep-rooted spiritual and cultural ties, we cannot remain untouched by developments in that country," the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement after the vote.
The act upset Sri Lankan officials who believe the U.N. resolution tramples on its sovereignty. Some have argued it could revive terrorism from the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels. Before the vote, hundreds of Buddhist monks clad in orange robes and other clergy held ceremonies and prayed for the resolution to fail.
The resolution “is an ill-conceived and unnecessary intervention into the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. It symbolizes a threat to the dignity and sovereignty of all small nations,” university leaders wrote in a statement published in the Sri Lankan Daily News.
Sri Lankan leaders have focused much of their ire so far at the United States, which drafted and offered the resolution. One government minister called for a boycott of Coca Cola, KFC and other American brands.
“Those who live in glass houses are best advised to exercise caution before throwing stones,” Cabinet Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe warned before the vote, the Associated Press reported.
A Sri Lankan reconciliation commission recommended investigating widespread allegations of killings and disappearances in December. The resolution calls on Sri Lanka to create a government action plan to carry out those recommendations and "address alleged violations of international law."
Human rights activists say disappearances and torture have continued in Sri Lanka since the war ended three years ago. Suspected rebels are left to languish in prison “without bothering to prosecute and prove to a court that they have indeed broken the law,” Amnesty International said in a recent report. Sri Lankan rights activists have reportedly been attacked in the media as “traitors” and “degenerates.”
Both sides have been accused of trampling on human rights in the 25-year conflict: A U.N. panel last year found the military intentionally shelled hospitals and aid agencies while rebels forced Tamil people to fight and used civilians as a human buffer.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Sri Lanka's ruling party legislators demonstrate outside the national parliament Thursday against a U.S.-led move to pass a resolution urging Sri Lanka to investigate alleged war crimes. Credit: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images