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.
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.