War and Crime

The battle for the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment is not over yet as it faces se­ri­ous war crime al­le­ga­tions that need to be cleared at the in­ter­na­tional level.

Southasia - - Region - By Fah­mida Ashraf

Since the end of the three decades of civil war in May 2009, be­cause of the bru­tal mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion by the Sri Lankan Army against the Tamil Tigers, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions have been crit­i­ciz­ing the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment of be­ing guilty of war crimes and hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions. Ac­cord­ing to a UN re­port is­sued in March 2010, more than 7,000 civil­ians were killed dur­ing the fi­nal days of the civil war. The in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions have been de­mand­ing an in­ter­na­tional in­quiry re­gard­ing pos­si­ble war crimes in Sri Lanka. The UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, Ban Ki-moon, ap­pointed a three­mem­ber panel of ex­perts in June 2010 to ex­am­ine the al­leged hu­man rights abuses. The Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment, how­ever, re­jected the ap­point­ment of the UN ex­pert panel. In view of the in­ter­na­tional pres­sure Pres­i­dent Ra­japakse ap­pointed the Sri Lankan Com­mis­sion on Lessons Learnt and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion (SCLLR) in May 2010 to as­sess the causes that led to the fail­ure of the Cease­fire agree­ment of Fe­bru­ary 2002 and to sug­gest method­ol­ogy for com­pen­sat­ing the per­sons af­fected by the fol­low­ing events in May 2009. How­ever, the in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions have ex­pressed con­cerns re­gard­ing the ob­jec­tiv­ity of SCLLR and have been de­mand­ing an in­ter­na­tional in­quiry re­gard­ing hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in Sri Lanka.

Re­cently the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil (UNHRC) held its six­teenth reg­u­lar session in Geneva from Fe­bru­ary 28 to March 25. Var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions sub­mit­ted writ­ten pe­ti­tions against Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment re­gard­ing war crimes and con­tin­ued hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions. For ex­am­ple, the Amnesty In­ter­na­tional (AI) de­manded an “UNled in­de­pen­dent in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged crimes” to en­sure jus­tice for Sri Lankan vic­tims and their fam­i­lies. The In­ter­na­tional Move­ment Against All Forms of Racism (IMAAFR) crit­i­cized the work­ing of SCLLR. The In­ter­na­tional Catholic Move­ment Pax Ro­mana ac­cused the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment of con­tin­u­ing the sup­pres­sion of “free­dom of assem­bly and as­so­ci­a­tion” in the Tamil dom­i­nated ar­eas. The Asian Legal Re­source Cen- tre ac­cused the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment of “fail­ing to co­op­er­ate with the UNHRC and erad­i­cate tor­ture de­spite re­peated pledges.” More­over, the Gen­eral Sec­re­tary of Tamil Cen­tre for Hu­man Rights, based in France, sub­mit­ted an ap­peal to UNHRC “to ex­ert pres­sure on the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment to in­ves­ti­gate the Geno­cide, cul­tural geno­cide and mul­ti­ple dis­place­ments that have oc­curred.”

Mahinda Sa­ma­ras­inghe, Plan­ta­tions Min­is­ter of Sri Lanka, led a del­e­ga­tion to Geneva which de­fended the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion dur­ing the UNHRC session. Mr. Sa­ma­ras­inghe met the UNHRC chief and other im­por­tant am­bas­sadors and per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tives and briefed them about the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts to look into the ac­cu­sa­tions re­gard­ing hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions. He in­formed the UNHRC mem­bers that the SCLLR has sub­mit­ted its In­terim Rec­om­men­da­tions in Septem­ber 2010 specif­i­cally deal­ing with the is­sues of de­ten­tions and miss­ing per­sons. The SCLLR has noted: “there were per­sis­tent com­plaints that peo­ple were be­ing held in de­ten­tion for long pe­ri­ods with­out charges.” It has rec­om­mended the set­ting up of a ‘spe­cial in­ves­tiga­tive unit’ within the Jus­tice Min­istry. The Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment has ap­pointed an In­ter-Agency Com­mit­tee headed by At­tor­ney Gen­eral, Mo­han Peiris, for im­ple­ment­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions of the SCLLR.

Dur­ing the clos­ing session on

March 25, the UNHRC adopted 40 res­o­lu­tions on var­i­ous is­sues in­clud­ing the pro­mo­tion of hu­man rights and fun­da­men­tal free­dom. The Coun­cil ex­pressed concern on the on­go­ing hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea, Myan­mar, Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran, Cote d’ Ivoire, oc­cu­pied Syrian Golan, and the Oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian Ter­ri­tory. How­ever, de­spite in- ter­na­tional pres­sure the Coun­cil has not moved a res­o­lu­tion against Sri Lanka. Ob­vi­ously, while de­fend­ing their po­si­tion the Sri Lankan of­fi­cials were able to con­vince UNHRC mem­bers that the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment is com­mit­ted to im­prov­ing hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion in Sri Lanka. Still, the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment should make its poli­cies and in­sti­tu­tions work to im­prove the hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion within the coun­try and make it more trans­par­ent. In­ter­ac­tion be­tween mem­bers of SCLLR and var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions should be en­cour­aged so that in­ter­na­tional al­le­ga­tions could be pos­i­tively ad­dressed. The writer has served as Di­rec­tor, South Asia, In­sti­tute of Strate­gic Stud­ies, Islamabad.

De­spite in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to look into Sri Lanka’s hu­man rights record, the war af­fectees con­tinue to live

a life of un­cer­tainty.

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