Human Rights Council considers emergency session

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By Jonathan Lynn and Stephanie Nebehay
Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Navi Pillay

Navaneetham Pillay

GENEVA - U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay backs calls for an inquiry into possible war crimes in Sri Lanka's closed-off conflict zone that may have already become a "killing field," her spokesman said on Friday.

Sri Lankan troops are advancing on a shrinking strip of Tamil Tiger-held coast where thousands of civilians are trapped by the fighting as the rebels battle for survival and government troops seek an end to the war once and for all.

"We believe some sort of independent commission of inquiry is essential given the conduct of this war and the number of civilians who have been killed," Rupert Colville told Reuters.

"Both sides are bound by the rules of war and there can be no impunity for war crimes," he said.

The European Union and various aid agencies are also calling for international scrutiny of the conflict between the army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that has pushed the Indian Ocean island into a humanitarian crisis.

"There is a growing concern that given the presence of so many civilians in the last tiny strip held by the LTTE, this small corner of Sri Lanka can turn into a killing field -- if it isn't one already," Colville said.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights has sought for years to deploy U.N. human rights monitors in Sri Lanka but has never gained permission.

"The refusal to allow independent monitors, media, aid workers or other international observers to see for themselves what is actually going on has made it very difficult to cut through the mass of propaganda. It also heightens the impression that those blocking the access have something to hide," he said.

A draft statement prepared for EU foreign ministers to consider on Monday said the 27-nation bloc was appalled by reports that large numbers of civilians, including children, have been killed in the intensified warfare.

"The fighting must stop now," said the document, which called for alleged violations by both sides to be investigated by an independent inquiry. It calls on Tamil Tiger militants to lay down their arms and urges the government to refrain from an unnecessarily deadly final assault.

Sri Lanka's government has so far brushed off calls from the U.N. Security Council and U.S. President Barack Obama to slow its offensive and the Tigers have refused to surrender and free tens of thousands of people they are holding as human shields.
SPECIAL SESSION

Britain, France and other EU states are pushing for the U.N. Human Rights Council to convene a special session on Sri Lanka's conflict, as it has done in the past to examine the occupied Palestinian territories, Myanmar and Sudan's Darfur region.

At least 16 of the U.N. forum's 47 member states must support the proposal for such an emergency meeting to take place. If it occurs next week as expected, a special session could see the council appointing an envoy or inquiry team to report on conditions in Sri Lanka.

Diplomats in Brussels said some EU states are questioning whether an inquiry would alleviate the immediate humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka, where aid groups are largely unable to access the besieged northeast strip.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been forced to temporarily suspend evacuations and aid deliveries to people trapped in the war zone, and the World Food Programme has not been able to get a major shipment delivered there since April 1.

"We are simply not able to do anything," ICRC spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas said in Geneva.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Writing by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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