UN human rights council endorses 6-month delay to report on alleged Sri Lanka war crimes

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday delayed by six months the release of a report into alleged war crimes committed during Sri Lanka's civil war, a move sought by the country's new government.

The council postponed the publication from March until September at a procedural meeting in Geneva, endorsing by consensus a recommendation from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein.

Thousands of civilians are suspected to have died in in 2009 when government forces crushed a quarter-century fight for an ethnic homeland by ethnic Tamil rebels.

Sri Lanka's new government says it wants time to set up its own judicial mechanism to probe rights violations that would follow up on the U.N. report's findings. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who ended the civil war but faced international isolation for failing to probe civilian deaths, lost an election last month.

There were "strong arguments for deferring the report's consideration a bit longer, given the changing context in Sri Lanka, and the possibility that important new information may emerge which will strengthen the report," Zeid said in a statement. He said the delay should "allow for a stronger and more comprehensive report."

He said the new Sri Lankan government had indicated that it is prepared to cooperate on a range of human rights issues, "which the previous government had absolutely refused to do."

Sri Lanka's deputy foreign minister, Ajith Perera, welcomed the decision.

"We are very happy, we need time and space to recover from the position of the previous government, to form a credible mechanism for accountability," he said.

The government plans as a first step to take a victim and witness protection law to parliament Thursday and then to set up a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission, he added.


Krishan Francis in Colombo, Sri Lanka contributed to this report.