New York: The Sri Lankan government’s appointment to parliament of former army chief Sarath Fonseka contradicts pledges to probe alleged war crimes, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
On February 9, the United National Party of Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe appointed Field Marshal Fonseka to parliament as a national list member for a seat vacated by the death of an incumbent.
Fonseka was the commander of the Sri Lankan Army from December 2005 until the defeat of the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009.
During the final months of the fighting, Sri Lankan forces under Fonseka’s command were implicated in numerous instances of unlawful shelling of civilians and hospitals, rape and other sexual violence, and the summary execution of prisoners.
The government’s failure to prosecute those responsible for serious crimes led to an October 2015 UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for justice and accountability, which the Sri Lanka government co-sponsored.
“Fonseka’s appointment signals that the government may protect senior military leaders suspected of widespread abuses,” said Human Rights Watch.
“The government should meaningfully demonstrate to the Sri Lankan people and the UN that it’s serious about accountability and not on the road to a whitewash.”
After the end of the war, Fonseka challenged then president Mahinda Rajapaksa in the 2010 presidential elections.
Following his defeat, Fonseka was briefly jailed by Rajapaksa on spurious charges.
In March 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena gave Fonseka a full pardon for his criminal conviction and then promoted him to the rank of Field Marshal, making him the first Sri Lankan army officer to hold that title.
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The Sirisena government has previously sought to protect and promote military commanders implicated in wartime atrocities, Human Rights Watch said.
“Fonseka’s appointment is a breach of trust for victims and families who believed in this government’s commitment to deliver justice for war crimes,” the rights body said.
Fonseka’s appointment was announced the day President Sirisena met the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, and renewed his commitment to justice and accountability for wartime abuses.