November 18, 2015 / 5:34 PM / 3 years ago

U.N. group asks Sri Lanka government to deliver on pledges about missing people

COLOMBO (Reuters) - A United Nations experts group urged Sri Lanka’s government on Wednesday to make good on its promises to investigate the cases of thousands of people who went missing in the civil war, saying a local probe had revealed only the “tip of the iceberg”.

President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka waits to address attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 30, 2015. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A local commission investigating people’s disappearances during the 1983-2009 civil war between government forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has said it has received written complaints relating to more than 16,000 missing persons.

“We consider this is the tip of the iceberg considering the many disappearances documented by many commissions,” Bernard Duhaime, vice-chair of an U.N. working group on “enforced or involuntary” disappearances, told reporters in Colombo after a 10-day official visit.

He said the group had visited a former detention center in the eastern port city of Trincomalee where “interrogation and torture took place” in a navy camp.

“This should be properly investigated. There were more than 12 cells. It apparently shows that it was systematically used for detention facility.”

President Maithripala Sirisena’s government agreed last month to establish a credible judicial process involving foreign judges and prosecutors to investigate alleged war crimes during the conflict in line with U.N. recommendations.

His predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was unseated in January, rejected requests by the international community to probe war crime allegations, including disappearances while his government rejected visas for UN experts last year.

The U.N. expert group welcomed the government’s cooperation and commitment to establish a dedicated office for missing persons.

“These promises and commitments must now be followed by concrete efforts and tangible results,” the group said in a statement. “The government will need to adopt bold steps to reach out to and create confidence in the victims.”

It also raised concerns over reported harassment by security forces of relatives of missing people for speaking to the group’s members and suggested such intimidation was continuing.

Additional reporting Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Ranga Sirilal in Colombo

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