Did Sri Lanka commit Human Rights Violations?
On September 12, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, finally sent a report to the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights accusing the Sri Lankan army of killing tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in the January to May 2009 offensive. The sending of the report is a major move as it may result in getting an international inquiry started against the Sri Lankan government. The final decision will now vest with the members of the Council.
The Sri Lankan government obviously denies the charges and was given time to respond to the report but it declined to do so. It instead produced its own reports on the situation which were also forwarded along with the panel of experts report. The government also established a Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission after the war which is expected to present its findings on the wars’ last months to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in November.
The report was prepared in April by a panel of three experts led by former Indonesian attorney general. It accuses both the Government and the Tamil separatists. The charge against the latter is now almost meaningless as the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and its leadership has been virtually wiped out; they were seeking a separate homeland in the country’s north-east and began a civil war in 1983 after decades of ethno-political tension between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority.
The report paints a barbarous picture of the offensive on the Tamil enclave in the north of the island. It says that the Sri Lankan forces deliberately shelled hospitals, UN centers and Red Cross ships, and accuses the forces of shooting prisoners in the head and raping women.
LTTE used around 330,000 civilians as a human shield and deliberately shot those who tried to escape.
Sri Lanka has called the UN report as “biased, exaggerated and fronted by Tamil Tiger supporters” and launched a major international campaign against it. The western countries, led by the United States are backing calls for an inquiry while most of the Asian countries typically are watching the developments from the sidelines; Sri Lanka is relying on China to help block any action at the Human Rights Council.
The western world is asking the Sri Lankan government to follow up on the findings of the UN report, by bringing to justice those who committed war crimes. It is of the opinion that accountability for the war crimes is as important as dealing with the political issues which remain unsettled despite LTTE’s defeat and the ongoing Tamil National Alliance negotiations with the ruling party.
The Tamils want a greater devolution of powers to the former war zone in the north and east, including greater financial, land and police powers at the provincial level.
Pakistan is watching all these developments from the sidelines in its typical manner. It, however, is said to have supported the Sri Lankan government militarily during the final months of the war and many connect the attack on the Pakistani High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Bashir Wali Mohamed, in August 2006 to such involvement.
India as opposed to Pakistan has an ethnic involvement and the outcome of the civil war became a big political issue there. However, the Indian government remained a silent spectator while the Hindu Tamils were defeated by the Buddhist Sinhalese. The Congress gave up on the LTTE after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991.
The whole issue has taken an acute turn after the Canadian PM recently suggested that his country may push for a boycott of a 2013 Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka unless it improves its human rights record.