U-N Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon plans to appoint a panel of experts to look into a tribunal something the Sri Lankan government says is unwarranted and uncalled for. Now Australian lawyers are joining forces with the International Commission of Jurists to take witness statements and prepare evidence for any war crimes tribunal. They say they hope it will help demonstrate the need for a full investigation and help protect those who might be subject to further human rights abuses.
Presenter: Joanna McCarthy
Speaker: John Dowd, President of the International Commission of Jurists Australia; Anne Marie Doueihy, co-chair of the Sri Lanka project on behalf of the NSW Young Lawyers Committee
MCCARTHY: The final weeks of Sri Lanka's civil war saw up to 40-thousand civilians killed, according to the United Nations spokesman in Colombo. Sri Lanka's government has long rejected calls for a war crimes tribunal. It says no civilians were harmed by government forces. That hasn't stopped the United Nations from setting up an advisory panel, and now young Australian lawyers are also getting involved.
John Dowd is the President of the International Commission of Jurists Australia:
DOWD: After discussions with the young lawyers we found that they wanted to help with the terrible consequences of the problems in Sri Lanka from the collapse of the LTTE, and since, and also the problems beforehand. And we devised this scheme to take evidence to make sure that it's recorded and is available for war crimes tribunals when they're setup.
MCCARTHY: Lawyers will conduct interviews in Australia and around the region with witnesses to the conflict, including refugees.
DOWD: Since the Sri Lankan government won't do it for crimes which obviously the government may be partly responsible, then we want to persuade the international community that there is a necessity to do this, and once it's established, whenever it's established, this evidence will be taken, recorded and available for that. The secondary purpose is of course to deter people who are now in Sri Lanka who are looking after people or not looking after them in concentration camps and prison camps to make sure that they understand that if anything goes wrong that nemesis is there.
MCCARTHY: Anne Marie Doueihy is the co-chair of the project on behalf of the NSW Young Lawyers Committee:
DOUEIHY: The interest has been great because of the need to prevent these types of crimes from occurring in the future, and I suppose the human side of lawyers and the need to fight for I suppose peace, and the need to prevent and prevent these things from occurring in the future and to save lives.
MCCARTHY: Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa says a war crimes tribunal is unwarranted and uncalled for. He's told Ban Ki Moon that appointing a panel is an interference in Sri Lanka's internal affairs, and will force Sri Lanka to take necessary and appropriate action. It's not clear what that will be, but his comments reflect the common criticism in Sri Lanka that any tribunal would be an imposition from the west. John Dowd?
DOWD: It's not a western imposition for a country that is supposed to have rule of law. They've got a legal system they inherited from the British, they've got a constitution that provides for the rule of law, this is not a western concept as such, tribunals are tribunals, and war crimes are war crimes. And that's an international matter involving everyone of the 208 members of the United Nations.