Marking 20 years since the Sri Lankan air force's bombing of Navaly Church, Together Against Genocide (TAG) called for an investigation and prosecution of those responsible.
Over 2500 Tamil civilians had gathered inside the church to take refuge after they were forced to flee their homes in Jaffna away from advancing Sri Lankan army troops.
"Together Against Genocide [TAG] commemorates the victims of the aerial bombing of St Peters Church and Safe Haven in Navaly by the Sri Lankan air force, 20 years ago today. We continue to call for the investigation and prosecution of those with command responsibility for this heinous war crime," the group said in a statement.
TAG's statement follows in full below:
"The bombing of the St Peters Church and Safe Haven in Navaly is one of 184 discrete acts of genocide detailed in our 2009 Model Indictment during Eelam War III (19 April 1995 to 22 February 2002 – see here). St Peters Church was bombed by the Sri Lankan army, during the government of Prime Minister Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga."
"This heinous attack is a precursor that set the pattern of impunity for the later much larger scale bombing of the designated “No Fire Zones” in 2009. Our Model Indictment for Genocide was submitted to the US Department of Justice in January 2009 describes the historical context and the attack on the Navaly Church:
“During the 1995 exodus, the Jaffna peninsula was under attack by indiscriminate shelling, aerial bombardments, and progressive occupation by the SLA from July 8, 1995 to December 31, 1995. Six army operations displaced approximately 994,004 - 1,094,004 Tamils, depleting virtually the entire Tamil population there-- the largest displacement of Tamils in Sri Lankan history.
Navaly village is in the Jaffna district. Due to escalating violence and military orders, approximately 2,500 had taken refuge in the St. Peters church. On July 9, after instructing civilians to seek refuge in the church, the SLAF dropped 8 bombs on the building, killing 150 Tamil civilians, and injuring 250 Tamil civilians. Of the 150 dead, 65 were women and children.”
St Peters Church, Navaly: Emblematic of Impunity
The aerial bombing of St Peter’s Church is one of hundreds of such military attacks on designated safe spaces during Sri Lanka’s 25-year war on the Tamil people. The deliberate targeting of civilian spaces, particularly designated safe areas and sacred sites, is a war crime. Systemic attacks of this nature constitute a Crime Against Humanity. When the intent of these systemic attacks is to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic or religious group, the attacks constitute genocide.
To date no military or civilian official has been prosecuted for the bombing of safe havens and thousands of other Hindu and Christian Sacred Sites in Sri Lanka.
The aerial attack on St Peters Church and Safe haven in Navaly set a precedent for the later attacks of designated “No Fiire Zones” in 2009, where an estimated 100,000 civilians or 1 in 4 of the civilian population were exterminated.
In 2014 The UN Human Rights Council mandated an International Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in the period 2002 to 2009.
But there has been neither justice nor closure nor reparations for victims of prior mass atrocities.
There is no statute of limitations for War Crimes or Crimes against Humanity. TAG demands an investigation into the aerial attack on 2500 civilians who took refuge in the St Peters Church in Navaly. Such an investigation is not possible domestically in the present political climate. TAG has no confidence in the domestic mechanism. There is a clear reluctance among the majority ethnic Sinhala population to hold SLA forces responsible for their war crimes.
In addition to the reluctance to try SLA soldiers, the sheer lack of political will to hold criminals to account fosters an atmosphere of apathy which is already propagated by the widespread corruption and poor witness protection. The Sri Lankan courts are incapable of administering justice. Therefore, it cannot be guaranteed that the state authorities will ever arrest and try those responsible for discrete acts of genocide.
Non Recurrence: Preventing Future Mass Atrocities
TAG demands that the government of Sri Lanka, in the interests of administering justice, undertakes to do the following:
1 Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,
2 Allow the Office of the Prosecutor to the ICC to investigate all instances of war crimes and other violations of international criminal law; and
3 Co-operate with the United Nations [OISL] investigation into human rights violations.
Finally, TAG urges the international community to:
1 Stand with the victims of mass atrocities regardless of whether the perpetrators are state or non-state actors,
2 Refer the incidences of war crimes and other violations of international criminal law to the ICC,
3 Urge the government of Sri Lanka to promote international justice; and
4 Protect those who possess evidence of the atrocities committed in Sri Lanka.
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