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Lanka must have foreign judges in war crime investigation

Sri Lanka must employ international judges and prosecutors to ensure accountability during trials of those responsible for alleged war crimes against mostly Tamils, Human Rights Watch Australia’s director Elaine Pearson told SBS News service.

A news report published by the SBS News Service said: Pearson’s call, which echoes a recommendation in a 2015 UN Human Rights Council report of the OHCHR investigation of Sri Lanka, comes as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe this week visited Canberra.

On Wednesday he beckoned asylum seekers who fled to Australia to return, assuring they would be "quite safe".

"They can come back to Sri Lanka and we will help them... but remember, they broke the law by attempting to come to Australia," he said.

Sri Lanka has made progress towards the national component of the resolution, Human Rights Watch’s Elaine Pearson said.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and several UN experts have visited over the last 18 months. The Wickremesinghe government passed legislation to create an Office of Missing Persons, and signed the International Convention against Enforced Disappearance.

It has reportedly begun drafting legislation for truth-seeking and reconciliation. It has also supposedly begun drafting law for reparations and to prevent a recurrence of the widespread human rights abuses carried out by the army and the LTTE.

However, Pearson told SBS News she was concerned that work towards ensuring the international component of the justice process remained to be seen.

"Despite having agreed to the resolution, there has been a lack of progress on the international component… on establishing accountability," she said.

President Maithripala Sirisena has also spoken out against including foreign judges in the justice process.

In an interview with BBC last year, President Sirisena said: "I will never agree to international involvement in this matter.

"We have more than enough specialists, experts and knowledgeable people in our country to solve our internal issues."

Pearson said forgoing international involvement could deter those who had fled from coming back.

"The reality is, why would you want to come back when the prosecutors [against the Tamils] are still walking around?" she asked.

She also called on the Sri Lankan government to repeal the "draconian" Prevention of Terrorism Act, as set out in the resolution.

Many people imprisoned under the act were charged after reportedly being tortured to confess, Pearson says.

"But they still haven’t done that [repeal the act]," she said.

Elaine Pearson urged Australia’s relationship with Sri Lanka to go "beyond just having friendly cricket".

"Offer help in terms of providing judges and prosecutors to ensure it’s [the justice process] an independent or impartial mechanism," she said.