War Crimes in Sri Lanka
17 May 2010
Newly revealed evidence of war crimes in Sri Lanka last year makes an international inquiry essential.
War Crimes in Sri Lanka
, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, exposes repeated violations of international law by both the Sri Lankan security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the last five months of their 30-year civil war. That evidence suggests that the period of January to May 2009 saw tens of thousands of Tamil civilian men, women, children and the elderly killed, countless more wounded, and hundreds of thousands deprived of adequate food and medical care, resulting in more deaths.
Released on the eve of the first anniversary of the end of the fighting, the report calls for an international inquiry into alleged crimes. The government has conclusively demonstrated its unwillingness to undertake genuine investigations of security force abuses and continues to deny any responsibility for civilian casualties. A true accounting is needed to address the grievances that drive conflict in Sri Lanka, so the international community must take the lead.
“The scale of civilian deaths and suffering demands a response”, says Crisis Group President Louise Arbour. “Future generations will demand to know what happened, and future peace in Sri Lanka requires some measure of justice.”
Both sides in Sri Lanka’s civil war violated international humanitarian law throughout the decades-long conflict. However the violations became particularly frequent and deadly in the months leading to the government’s declaration of victory over the LTTE in May 2009. Evidence gathered by Crisis Group provides reasonable grounds to believe that government security forces repeatedly and intentionally violated the law by attacking civilians, hospitals and humanitarian operations. The government declined to respond to Crisis Group’s request for comment on these allegations. Evidence also shows that the LTTE violated the law by killing, wounding or otherwise endangering civilians, including by shooting them and preventing them from leaving the conflict zone even when injured and dying.
Much of the international community turned a blind eye to the violations when they were happening. Many countries welcomed the LTTE’s defeat regardless of the cost of immense civilian suffering and an acute challenge to the laws of war. The United Nations too readily complied with the government’s demands to withdraw from conflict areas.
The international community has a responsibility to uphold the rule of law, the reputation of international agencies and respect for international humanitarian law, most importantly the protection of civilians lives. Today, a number of other countries are considering “the Sri Lankan option” – unrestrained military action, refusal to negotiate, disregard for humanitarian issues, keeping out international observers including the press and humanitarian workers – as a way to deal with insurgencies and other violent groups.
“An international inquiry is necessary not only for justice and long-term peace in Sri Lanka but also to help prevent a repeat elsewhere”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “It would serve as a warning to other governments that may be considering ‘the Sri Lankan model’ to address their own internal conflicts.”