GENEVA (AP) -- The U.N.'s top human rights body launched an investigation Thursday into Sri Lanka's civil war, approving a U.S.-led resolution over the strong protests of Sri Lanka's government.
The resolution approved by the U.N. Human Rights Council sets in motion a yearlong investigation that will examine "alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka."
Members of the 47-nation Geneva-based council voted 23 to 12 in favor of the resolution, with 12 abstentions, following a heated two-day debate. The council also rejected a move to remove language calling on Sri Lanka to cooperate with the investigation.
The investigation, which is estimated to cost nearly $1.5 million, follows on the recommendation of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who has criticized Sri Lanka for making too little progress toward ensuring accountability for alleged atrocities and war crimes during the government's 25-year battle against minority Tamil rebels.
The war ended in May 2009 after government forces pushed the remaining Tamil fighters into a shrinking area of land on the northeast coastline. A U.N. report found up to 40,000 people may have been killed in the final phase of the war, but the government disputes that figure. The inquiry aims to establish the facts and circumstances "with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability."
Sri Lanka's U.N. envoy Ravinatha Pandukabhaya Aryasinha said the investigation would constitute "a serious breach of international law" by interfering with his nation's sovereignty. Russia, China, Pakistan and others opposed the investigation on similar grounds.
After the vote, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the council's action sent a clear message.
"The time to pursue lasting peace and prosperity is now; justice and accountability cannot wait," he said.
The Tamil National Alliance of Sri Lanka said the decision to back the investigation "sends a strong message to the Sri Lankan government that the undemocratic, militarized and discriminatory trajectory on which it has set the country is unacceptable and unsustainable."
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