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Landmark US resolution calls for removal of Sri Lankan war criminals

Photograph: Aniamendrek

A landmark resolution has been brought by a group of US senators and representatives from across both parties this week, urging Sri Lanka to demilitarise the North-East, repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, halt land grabs and remove war criminals from positions of authority.

The resolution lays out a range of concerns and recognises that successive Sri Lankan governments have failed to live up to commitments made on “meaningful justice and accountability” for atrocities committed throughout decades of armed conflict. During the final phase in 2009, tens of thousands of Tamils were massacres amidst the widespread shelling of civilians, in what is becoming increasingly recognised as a genocide.

“Whereas the majority of the LTTE leadership were killed or disappeared during the civil war and therefore cannot stand trial for their crimes, and despite evidence implicating Sri Lankan government officials and security forces in atrocity crimes committed against Sri Lankan civilians during the war, no such officials or forces have faced justice for their crimes,” the resolution noted.

"The resolution recognizes that the people of Sri Lanka have faced a political, economic, and humanitarian crisis which has had devastating human impact," said a press release from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "Many of those responsible for this crisis are also implicated in human rights abuses against Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims across Sri Lanka dating back to the civil war."

The move was introduced by US Senators Ben Cardin and Jim Risch – who is also Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - along with Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Bill Johnson.

Amongst the many points, the resolution “calls for an immediate moratorium on the appropriation of land facilitated by the Government of Sri Lanka in the North and East”, “urges the Government of Sri Lanka to immediately repeal or amend the Prevention of Terrorism Act”, “urges the Government and security forces of Sri Lanka to respect the rights of all Sri Lankans, including the right to protest peacefully, associate freely, and commemorate their dead”, and “ensure those credibly implicated in human rights abuses are removed from positions of authority”.

It also "urges the Government of Sri Lanka to fully implement the Constitution of Sri Lanka, including the 13th Amendment’s commitments to devolve specified powers over land, the police, education, health, agriculture, housing, and finances to the provinces".

“The people of Sri Lanka deserve peace, prosperity, and justice,” said Chair Cardin. “Sri Lanka’s ongoing economic, governance, and humanitarian crises – which have had crippling impacts on the Sri Lankan people – are exacerbated by the Sri Lankan government’s unwillingness to meaningfully address the devastating legacy and impacts of its civil war and provide justice to those who suffered serious human rights abuses. This resolution makes clear that the United States stands with the people of Sri Lanka in their effort to form a more inclusive, just, democratic, and economically sustainable future.”

“Strengthening Sri Lanka’s democracy supports a more secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific. This resolution urges the government of Sri Lanka to hold free and fair local elections as soon as possible and to strengthen good governance, rule of law, corruption, justice, accountability, and human rights measures,” said Ranking Member Risch.

“The people of Sri Lanka have experienced decades of war, economic crisis, and political suppression that have led to this moment of inflection in the nation’s history,” said Congressman Krishnamoorthi. “As a result of our resolution, the U.S. House of Representatives will express its strong support for the Sri Lankan citizenry and their ongoing efforts to bring about a peaceful, democratic society that will ensure prosperity for the nation and accountability for the tragic actions of the past.”

“It would further reinforce the principle that Sri Lanka’s leaders must safeguard the political, economic, and social rights of the populace, including and especially the ethnic and religious communities who have been deliberately suppressed and targeted by previous governments.”

“As a co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Ethnic and Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka, I have long advocated for increasing civil and human rights for all ethnicities and religions in Sri Lanka who are being excluded from society, the economy, and political life through discrimination, harassment, and persecution,” said Congressman Johnson.

“I am hopeful that it encourages the Sri Lankan government to take positive, visible, and concrete actions to provide greater transparency, increased human rights, and accountability for past alleged war crimes and violations of human and civil rights.”

“As the resolution recognizes, more must be done to ensure accountability for human rights abuses and to address the root causes of the conflict and current political and economic crises in Sri Lanka,” said People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL).

“Bilateral engagement between the United States and Sri Lanka must embrace solutions that meaningfully address the Tamil people's longstanding demands for justice, demilitarization, land returns, and a durable political solution to ensure stability and sustainable peace.”

“It is clear that justice, accountability and a permanent political solution is the only way forward for the Eelam Tamil people in the North-East of Sri Lanka.”

Read the full text of the resolution here.

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