The categories of war crimes for which Sri Lanka’s top civilian and military leadership are responsible expanded this week to include rape , forced prostitution and trafficking into sexual slavery , based on a Wikileaked US embassy cable of May 18, 2007. (See the full text of the cable here , and a summary of the sex-related crimes it outlines here .) Tamil paramilitaries ran prostitution rings for Sri Lankan troops in government-controlled parts of the Northeast, and child sex trafficking rings using their networks in India and Malaysia, and they did so with the knowledge and support of the Sri Lankan government , the US cable revealed. Article 7, para (g), of the Rome Statute lists “rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity" as crimes against humanity "when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population." The US cable leak comes on the tenth anniversary of the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 , which specifically addresses the impact of conflict, particularly sexual violence, on women and girls. The below report looks at the international legal context of the sexual crimes described in the US cable, Colombo's response, and some of the past documentation of rape by the Sri Lanka's armed forces.
No sooner had Sri Lanka’s supposed change of heart on allowing the UN panel of experts on war crimes convened by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon been announced, the Colombo regime made clear the circumscribed space it will accord the panel and, more importantly, the dangerous reciprocity it is demanding.
Sri Lanka’s new preparedness to allow a three-member expert panel on war crimes appointed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to visit the country is clearly linked to international economic pressure and the diplomatic embarrassments recently suffered by President Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime, proving that - as we argued last week - only direct pressure can bring about Colombo's compliance with international norms, and that ‘quiet diplomacy’ is utterly ineffective.
By going ahead with his planned visit to Sri Lanka next week, Defence Secretary Liam Fox is irresponsibly undermining Britain's calls for an independent inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka and international protection of human rights. It matters little that Britain is not paying his way.
A secret US embassy cable Wikileaked Thursday outlines in detail how the US was well aware in 2007 of the extent of Sri Lanka’s active use of Tamil paramilitaries as an integral part of its war against the LTTE. Sri Lanka funded paramilitaries directly, then allowed them to extort funds, loot supplies for internally displaced Tamils, and run forced prostitution rings using girls and women from the refugee camps. However, Tamil voices who argued a t the time that the soaring killings, extortion and crime were linked directly to Sri Lanka's paramilitary-led war against the LTTE were largely ignored. For example, compare what one of our columnists wrote on the subject in January 2008, with the US cable of May 2007:
Britain’s Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt responded Tuesday to MPs questions on Sri Lanka. See the transcript here . Amongst the issues raised were the British government’s position on Sri Lanka’s closure of ICRC offices in the Tamil areas, Sinhala colonization, investigation of war crimes and British Defence Secretary’s ‘private’ meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his controversial visit to UK earlier this month. See also: - Gap between UK’s rhetoric and action - Too close for British comfort - Britain must take the lead
One of Scotland's largest companies, the Weir Group, was this week fined £3m for breaching UN sanctions on Iraq by doing business with Saddam Hussein's regime. £13.9m of illegal profits were also confiscated, the BBC reported . Last year four British Parliamentary committees issued a joint report arguing that all arms licenses to Sri Lanka should be investigated, as UK-supplied weapons had been used against Tamil civilians. See these reports by The Times , Daily Telegraph and Channel 4 .
Despite its Sinhala nationalist rhetoric and ethos, international pressure continue to bite, compelling President Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime to implement the pro-market economic reforms that it has bitterly opposed. Concluding its visit, a delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) observed this week: “The authorities’ structural reform agenda under the program … appears to be broadly on track.” ( See p33-35 of President Rajapaksa's ideological manifesto, 'Mahinda Chintana ' to see the policies the IMF seeks to roll back.) Amongst policies insisted on by the IMF are cutting of...
Sri Lanka's national anthem will only be in Sinhala from now on and the Tamil version will no longer be played at any official or state functions, the Cabinet decided on Wednesday, according to the Sunday Times . President Mahinda Rajapakse told the cabinet meeting that there could not be ‘two’ national anthems, and that this was a ‘shortcoming’ that must be rectified. (See this on state ethnic policy also.) The logic? "We must all think of Sri Lanka as one country." The President cited an instance where then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike had walked out of a function in the island’s...
“It is the responsibility of the global Tamil community living beyond Sri Lanka's murderous reach to do everything it can to contribute to, and support, international efforts to bring President Rajapakse and the rest of the leadership to justice. “This is both our right and our obligation. Most importantly, this campaign is not only about the past, but the future : it is only in this way that we can ensure the chilling horrors being unearthed by global rights activists are not visited again and again on the Tamils.” See our new editorial, ‘Justice is Security’, here . See also discussion of...