Colombo: Sri Lanka tried to claim a moral victory Friday and insisted it would push on with reconciliation efforts after being censured by the UN`s top rights body for failing to bring perpetrators of war crimes to justice.
The US-initiated resolution was carried at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Thursday with 23 votes in favour and 12 against. Sri Lankan officials said the fact that another 12 nations abstained meant that a majority of the 47-member council did not support the censure move.
"Those 24 countries who refused to endorse the US resolution have sent a very clear and emphatic message rejecting imposition of external solutions on Sri Lanka," Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lanka`s top envoy in Geneva, told AFP by telephone.
Sri Lanka`s state-run Daily News reported Thursday`s UN vote under the headline: "Majority against America." The paper also called the UNHRC vote a "moral victory" for Colombo.
The privately-owned daily, The Island, accused the United States of trying to bring about regime change in Colombo by proposing the war crimes probe.
"The resolution has all the trappings of an accelerated programme to effect a regime change in this country where the opposition has failed to challenge the government," the paper said.
Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse, who rejected the UN call for an investigation against his country, told AFP Thursday that he was pleased that neighbouring India, which voted for a similar resolution last year, decided to abstain this time round.
"I think it is encouraging that India did not vote against us," he said shortly after the results of the vote were announced.
"We reject this (resolution). This resolution only hurts our reconciliation efforts. It does not help. But I am not discouraged. We will continue with the reconciliation process I have started."On Friday, Rajapakse ordered the immediate release of dozens of Indian fishermen detained for poaching in Sri Lanka`s territorial water.
Sri Lankan diplomats described the move as a "thank you" to India for refusing to support the US-initiated resolution that set up the mechanism for a formal probe into Colombo`s war record.
Thursday`s resolution is the third in as many years and is also the most damning for Colombo which has insisted its troops did not kill a single civilian, but has also resisted calls for an independent external probe.
The US welcomed the resolution and asked Colombo to take "meaningful action" to ensure accountability and reconciliation.
The White House said Sri Lanka`s rights record had deteriorated even after the end of the 37-year-long Tamil separatist war in 2009, a charge made by international rights organisations too.
"We agree with the resolution`s request for the Office of the High Commissioner to investigate alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties to the conflict and to monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, which has continued to deteriorate," the White House said in a statement.
The latest resolution asked UN rights chief Navi Pillay to probe actions of both government forces and Tamil rebels during a seven year period leading up to the end of Sri Lanka`s separatist war.
About 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were said to have been killed by government forces in the final months of fighting, a charge Colombo denies.
Sri Lanka has also said it needs more time to ensure reconciliation between the ethnic Tamil minority and the majority Sinhalese community.
The resolution is expected to have little short-term impact on Rajapakse`s regime and analysts say it may even boost his popularity among a nationalistic electorate.
On Wednesday, UN rights chief Pillay told the council that it was crucial to recall the "magnitude and gravity" of the violations allegedly committed by both the government and the rebels, notorious for their suicide bombings.
The 1972-2009 conflict claimed 100,000 lives, according to UN estimates.