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Sri Lankan foreign minister rejects foreign judges hearing war crimes cases

Sri Lanka’s foreign minister said his government would not allow foreign judges to hear cases in an accountability mechanism for human rights abuses committed during the final stages of the armed conflict, in which tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed.

Mangala Samaraweera said his government was in “no great hurry” to devise an accountability mechanism to try those accused of war crimes, but was clear on the level of foreign participation Colombo would allow.

“We are not against foreign participation, but having foreign judges would need an amendment of the law on the judiciary,” Mr Samaraweera told the Foreign Correspondents Association. He went on to state that foreign judges might be allowed to participate on some levels, they would not be allowed to hear any cases.

“We are not doing these things to please the international community, but for our own good,” he continued, stating his government was committed to “reconciliation and peace”.

The declaration will be seen as a backtrack from a September 2015 UN resolution that Sri Lanka co-sponsored, which called for the participation of “foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators” in a judicial mechanism.

Mr Samaraweera though sought to deter that notion, stating that this was not a reversal from the UN resolution.

"There will be no u-turn, but occasionally there could be a detour,” he said. “But the destination remains the same."

“The [Geneva] resolution speaks of participation of foreign experts at different levels but Sri Lanka is committed to come up with something independent and credible.”

The foreign minister went on to claim that the “UN Human Rights Council has accepted our proposal for a credible and independent domestic mechanism”. “The UN Human Rights High Commissioner had also said, during his visit to Sri Lanka, that it is Sri Lanka’s sovereign right to decide what form the judicial mechanism will take,” he added.

"Obviously, we need more time," the minister said.

When asked how much time was needed, he responded: "Not for ever."