London:  The Sri Lankan war commission report on the ethnic Tamil conflict falls short of addressing the issue of war crimes committed during the last phase of the LTTE war and fails to advance accountability for the victims, international rights groups have said.

Leading rights watch Amnesty International said the report acknowledges serious human rights problems, but it falls short of fully addressing crimes against humanity, while the Human Rights Watch slammed it for disregarding the worst abuses by government forces.

The much-awaited report of Sri Lanka's Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was tabled in the Parliament on Friday. While it cleared the nation's army of deliberately targeting civilians in the final stages of the deadly war, it did concede that some isolated incidents might have occurred.

"A preliminary review of the report suggests that it acknowledges the very serious human rights problems in Sri Lanka. But where it appears to really falter is in ignoring the serious evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of the laws of war by government forces, even though the report highlights the serious and systematic
violations committed by the LTTE," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Director.

Though the commission cleared the military on this count, it recommended that investigation be carried out if there was evidence of isolated cases of excesses.

"There is a clear sign of the bias we had feared and already detected in the LLRC's composition and conduct. It does however offer some interesting recommendations about how to improve the overall human rights situation in Sri Lanka that the government needs to take seriously," said Zarifi.

He said the Sri Lankan government must now address the findings included in the report and report to the UN Human Rights Council at its next session in March 2012 on its measures to implement the report's recommendations, including the need for further investigation of alleged violations of the laws of war.

The Sri Lankan government, he said, should also take account of the findings and recommendations of the report of the UN Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka. The Secretary General's panel had held both sides in the conflict responsible for human rights violations.

The LLRC received testimonies about enforced disappearances, illegal or abusive detention and extra- judicial executions. It has called on Sri Lankan government to investigate these reports and prosecute violators.

Importantly, the report notes that many people stressed that "definitive action against alleged cases of disappearances as well as preventive measure would have a significant impact on the reconciliation process".

Amnesty International has long held that accountability is essential to reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

It said "given Sri Lanka's long history of impunity, lack of apparent political will to address ongoing violations and enormous backlog of unresolved cases of violations, effective investigation and prosecution of all wrongdoers (including commanding officers) is very unlikely without the active support of the international community".

The report's major shortcoming is in addressing alleged violations of the laws of war, where the LLRC appears to have taken the government's responses uncritically, it said.

"The LLRC's blanket rejection of government targeting of civilians and its deliberate downplaying of the numbers of civilians caught in the final phase of the conflict is not warranted by the evidence, including that presented to the LLRC," Zarifi said.

It said given the LLRC has itself admitted its inability to establish the facts about the conduct of the fighting, and legal complexities beyond its abilities, the international community must follow up with an investigation, Zarifi said.

New York-based HRW said the report provides no new information or recommendations. "The LLRC findings largely exonerating government forces for laws of war violations stand in stark contrast to those by the UN panel of experts," it said.

The UN advisory panel had in April called for an independent investigation into alleged war crimes.

HRW said the LLRC report lays to rest government claims that its forces caused no civilian casualties by concluding that there were considerable civilian casualties.

The LLRC mandate was to look back at the island's separatist conflict covering February 2002 and May 2009 to learn from the experience in order to prevent a repetition of the armed conflict.

(Agencies)