The new Sri Lankan government cannot be blamed if it wants to delay publication of a UN report on the human rights violations in the wake of the anti-Tamil pogrom during the last phase of the civil war that ended in 2009. President Maithripala Sirisena does not want the report to vitiate the atmosphere in the run-up to the upcoming parliamentary elections. The UN report is believed to have found that the Sri Lankan forces had killed as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians in the civil war. The previous Mahinda Rajapaksa government did not cooperate with the UN, as it was complicit in the genocide. The publication is bound to exacerbate ethnic tensions in the island nation.
On his part, Sirisena has taken a number of steps to win the confidence of the Tamils since coming to power a month ago. He has lifted the ban on travel of foreigners to the Tamil areas, appointed a civilian as the governor of the Northern Province, has pledged to release hundreds of Tamil detainees and to restore to Tamil citizens land which was taken over from them by the army in the name of development projects. Unlike his predecessor who wanted to forget the past and move on, Sirisena wants to have a domestic inquiry into the last phase of the civil war in which human rights were wantonly violated.
The new president has been trying to seek the support of the international community for his plan to hold a domestic inquiry. Having announced that his government does not want to hide anything from the world, it may not be legitimate for him to ask for delaying the UN report. If his proposed domestic inquiry is to acquire credibility, he should try to involve the UN in it. This way he will be able to ensure that the inquiry is swift and independent, the witnesses are adequately protected and the perpetrators, however highly placed they may be, are punished. Such an inquiry will go a long way in reconciling the conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalas.