Fonseka’s appointment draws flak

Colombo, February 11

An international rights group said today that the Sri Lankan government’s decision to appoint the civil war-winning general to Parliament contradicts its pledges to investigate alleged abuses under his command.

Human Rights Watch said the appointment of former army commander Sarath Fonseka signals that the government may protect senior military leaders suspected of abuses.

Fonseka took his oath as a lawmaker on Tuesday. He commanded Sri Lanka’s army from 2005 until the end of war in 2009 and is credited with leading the army to victory over the ethnic minority Tamil rebels.

The rights group said Sri Lankan forces under Fonseka’s command were implicated in numerous instances of shelling of civilians and hospitals, rape and other sexual violence, and summary execution of prisoners.

“The government should meaningfully demonstrate to the Sri Lankan people and the UN that it’s serious about accountability and not on the road to a whitewash,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director.

Sri Lanka has promised to investigate abuse allegations with foreign help in a consensus resolution at the UN human rights council last year.

According to UN estimates, up to 100,000 people were killed in the war but the figure is believed to be much higher, including up to 40,000 civilian deaths in just the final months.

Government officials could not be reached for comment.

Months after the war victory Fonseka challenged then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s re-election.

Soon after his election defeat Fonseka was arrested and charged with corruption and implicating Rajapaksa’s brother, who was defence secretary, in rights abuses. He won a parliamentary seat he contested while he was in detention, but lost it when he was convicted.

He was released from prison in 2012 and was part of President Maithripala Sirisena’s alliance that defeated Rajapaksa in last year’s presidential election.