Did Sri Lanka com­mit Hu­man Rights Vi­o­la­tions?

Southasia - - The Last Stop - By Anees Jil­lani The writer is an ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court and a mem­ber of the Washington, DC Bar. He has been writ­ing for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions for more than 20 years and has au­thored sev­eral books.

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.

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