GENEVA/COLOMBO (Reuters) - The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday accused Sri Lanka of trying to "sabotage" a war crimes inquiry, creating a "wall of fear" to prevent witnesses from giving evidence.
The U.N. Human Rights Council set up the inquiry in March to investigate crimes allegedly committed by both government forces and Tamil rebels during the final stages of a 26-year conflict that ended in 2009.
“The Government of Sri Lanka has refused point blank to cooperate with the investigation despite being explicitly requested by the Human Rights Council to do so,” Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said in his statement.
“A wall of fear has been created that has undoubtedly served to deter people from submitting evidence.”
“Such a refusal does not, however, undermine the integrity of an investigation set up by the Council – instead it raises concerns about the integrity of the government in question. Why would governments with nothing to hide go to such extraordinary lengths to sabotage an impartial international investigation?”
A Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry official rejected Zeid's remarks.
“The government categorically rejects any insinuation of sabotaging the so-called 'independent investigation' by the panel of the UNHRC,” the official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
Sri Lanka had opposed the decision to set up the U.N. investigation, which was backed by 23 states, including the United States and Britain, and opposed by 12, including China and Pakistan.
It has set up its own Presidential Commission into missing people and says the U.N. should accept that instead.
“Our inquiry is open, independent, and transparent. We need the backing of the of U.N. for this credible local process, unlike its own flawed foreign inquiry held in unknown countries,” the Foreign Ministry official said.
Zeid said Sri Lanka had mounted a campaign of distortion and misinformation, despite "compelling and widespread allegations that possible serious international crimes were committed".
Earlier this week Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry said the investigators were unprofessional, selective and biased, since they had refused to divulge details of witness interviews.
Zeid rejected the accusation and said it was standard procedure to protect sources of information against reprisals.
He also said the ministry had made an "absurd" accusation by saying the U.N. investigation had been compromised by the arrest of a man with blank signed forms that could be filled in and submitted to investigators.
Police in Kilinochchi, the former stronghold of the Tamil Tiger rebels, said the arrested 57-year-old, Sinnathamby Krishnaraja, had collected personal details and signatures from local Tamils and then filled in the forms as he wished.
They said he was a former Tamil Tiger member, but his son K. Sudhakar told Reuters his father had never been involved in any rebel activities.
Zeid said the U.N. investigators would not be taken in by such alleged frauds and had never issued any such forms for people to fill in.
“It is a false equation to suggest that because someone may have been trying to submit false submissions, the inquiry is discredited," he said.
Reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva and Shihar Aneez in Colombo; Editing by Andrew Roche