Sri Lanka’s frontrunner for president, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, has vowed to scrap a pledge to investigate war crimes committed during a bloody separatist war when his brother was in power.
Gotabhaya was defense secretary during his brother Mahinda’s time in power when troops are accused of killing 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians in the final months of the conflict in 2009.
The U.N. Human Rights Council approved a resolution, led by the U.S. and a former Sri Lankan government, for a panel to look into the actions of both sides during the conflict, although the panel has not been formed.
Addressing the press on Oct. 15, Gotabhaya said he would not honor those commitments made to the council, saying people needed instead to move on.
“Why are you talking all the time on the past? Ask (about) the future,” he said, when questioned by the AFP news agency about Sri Lanka’s human rights record.
“I am trying to become the president of the future Sri Lanka. So, if you concentrate on the future, it is better.”
He said even Tamils were more interested in jobs, education and infrastructure than focusing on the past.
Gotabhaya is frontrunner for the Nov. 16 election, even though his bid is widely seen as an attempt to get Mahinda, the country’s leader from 2005 to 2015, back into power.
Mahinda is barred from contesting the election because of a two-term rule, but he has said he would become prime minister, should his brother win the presidency.
Mahinda’s time in power was marked by the end of the decades-long civil war that saw the Sri Lankan military crush Tamil rebels seeking a homeland for the ethnic minority in the Sinhalese majority nation.
The Rajapakses insist no civilians were killed by government forces in the final stages of the war. They instead accuse the rebels of atrocities including using civilians as human shields.
At least 100,000 people were killed in the conflict.