COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka is sharing the counter-terrorism strategies it used to win a decades-long civil war as it hosts an international defense seminar amid allegations it committed war crimes.
Nearly 60 senior military officials from 42 countries are attending the three-day seminar starting Tuesday, but leading invitees including the United States, Britain and Australia were absent. Human rights groups called the seminar a farce.
Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told the participants the seminar will help not only to study the tactics that proved successful in Sri Lanka but also to question war crimes allegations.
"Over the next few days you will meet many field commanders involved in the operations, who will be able to discuss the tactics used to achieve victory," Rajapaksa said.
"At a time so many countries the world over are facing the problem posed by domestic and international terrorism, we believe that sharing lessons learnt from the Sri Lankan experience ... is important," he said.
A U.N. investigator's report released Monday said videos showing the army executing captured men and women in May 2009 are authentic and prove war crimes took place. Sri Lanka says the videos are not real.
A previous report compiled by three U.N experts said allegations were credible that both government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels committed serious human rights violations.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the conference only "seeks to legitimize the unlawful killing of thousands of civilians" and urged the invitees to stay away.
"Sri Lanka's self proclaimed 'model' of counterinsurgency included repeatedly shelling civilians, targeting hospitals, and trying to prevent the world from finding out about it," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch in a statement last week.
"This conference is nothing more than a public relations exercise to whitewash abuses. No professional, law-abiding military should take part in this farce."
The reasons why the U.S., Britain, and Australia were absent from the conference were not given.
The U.N. has estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people may have been killed in the 26-year civil war, but rights groups say the number could be much higher. According to U.N. documents, at least 7,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final months alone.
Christof Heyns, a South African law professor who is also the U.N.'s independent investigator on extrajudicial killings, said Tuesday the video first aired by Britain's Channel 4 television provides prima facie evidence for war crimes and should be used to start legal proceedings.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said he would need a mandate from either the Sri Lankan government or the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, Security Council or General Assembly to initiate a war crimes inquiry.