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People's tribunal formed by press freedom groups to hold Sri Lanka 'accountable' and 'investigate murdered journalists'

Three leading press freedom groups have established a People's Tribunal to "investigate their murders and hold governments accountable", in an effort to achieve justice in the killing of journalists, with an opening hearing to be held on the 2nd November 2021 in the Hague. 

The Tribunal, a form of grassroots justice, "relies on investigations and high-quality legal analysis involving specific cases in three countries". Free Press Unlimited (FPU), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), requested the Permanent People's Tribunal (PTT) to convene a People's Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists. Since 1992, more than 1,400 journalists have been murdered and in eight out of ten cases where a journalist is murdered, the killers go free. "People's Tribunals are designed to hold states accountable for violations of international law by building public awareness and generating a legitimate evidence record". The People's tribunal on the murder of Journalists will indict the governments of Sri Lanka, Mexico and Syria for failing to deliver justice for the murders of Lasantha Wickrematunge, Miguel Ángel López Velasco, and Nabil Al-Sharbaji.

Murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge

The former lawyer, co-founder and editor of Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge was a staunch critic of the various human rights violations perpetrated by the Rajapaksa government and the corruption by its ministers. He was also vocal against the war efforts against the Tamils in the North-East. 

Wickrematunge and his newspaper were particularly critical in the coverage of the then-president and current, war crimes-accused Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. A year before his murder, the President called him, screaming that he would be killed if he continued to criticise the state. He was gunned down in Colombo on 8 January 2009.

The daughter of Wickrematunge has been campaigning for justice since the murder of her father welcomed and supported the Tribunal prosecution of the Sri Lankan government. 

Sri Lanka guilty of genocide 

In 2013, the Permanent Peoples Tribunal (PTT) unanimously ruled that Sri Lanka is guilty of genocide during its sessions held in Bremen, Germany. Highlighting that the Tamils in North-East Sri Lanka are Eelam Tamils, the tribunal ruled that Sri Lanka had sought the destruction of their identity, noting that this process had started before the armed conflict and that it is still continuing to this day.

The panel also ruled that both the United States of America and the United Kingdom were complicit in the genocide, whilst the involvement of India warranted further investigation.

The tribunal, headed by Secretary-General Gianni Tognoni, included eminent members such as the former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Dr Denis Haliday, as well as genocide scholars, international legal experts and activists. In 2010 the PTT held their first session in Dublin, where Sri Lanka was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Read more here.

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