The recent findings of two inquiry commissions in Sri Lanka underscore the need for a formal process to investigate and prosecute those responsible for grave crimes during the armed conflict that spanned three decades. The submission of the reports in Parliament should be welcomed, although it could also be interpreted as a signal to the international community that the domestic mechanisms are strong enough. The Maxwell Paranagama Commission, mandated to probe cases of missing persons and allegations of war crimes, has established that there were significant civilian casualties caused by Sri Lankan Army shelling in 2009 and that there may have been many individual acts of war crimes. The three-member Commission has, however, mainly blamed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the civilian deaths, noting that it used civilians as human shields, placed weaponry in their midst and prevented them from leaving war zones.
Sri Lanka’s government could be doing much more to heal the wounds of the war and address Tamil grievances writes Taylor Dibbert in the Diplomat . Highlighting the ongoing military “occupation of civilian land in the northern province” and the “ government’s continued detention of Tamil political prisoners,” Mr Dibbert said President Sirisena’s decision on how to deal with Tamil political prisoners will be something to watch closely. Urging Sirisena to move on matters that are of particular importance to the country’s Tamil community, he added, “Though the country’s numerical minorities voted...
The inclusion of exiled victims and witnesses in Sri Lanka’s consultation for an accountability mechanism will be a litmus test of its credibility, writes former BBC correspondent Frances Harrison. Writing in the Huffington Post, Ms Harrison noted that “the extent of organised sexual violence and torture by the Sri Lankan security forces in the post-war period and right up to the present day and the chilling way every medical facility was deliberately attacked is now a matter of record,” with the release of the OISL report. “The fact the Sri Lankan security services this week went to question the only Tamil activist who spoke in public in Geneva appears to be an attempt to embarrass the government,” she added. “This sort of harassment causes disproportionate bad feeling and suspicion, especially when the target is a highly respected Catholic priest who works tirelessly with the families of the Disappeared.”
The proof of change in Sri Lanka following the passing of a UN resolution this week, will come in how it treats survivors of sexual violence, wrote Nimmi Gowrinathan and Kate Cronin-Furman. Writing in the Washington Post, they said “for the victim community, and their advocates,” the passing of the resolution is “not unambiguously cause for celebration”. “Even as the members of the Council commended Sri Lanka’s government for re-engaging with the international community, domestic civil society groups and international rights activists challenged the vagueness of the resolution’s call for Sri Lanka to ensure a “credible justice process”,” they said. “Sri Lanka has a long history of domestic commissions of inquiry that function as impressive political theatre but have limited capacity to provide redress. The acceptance of a (yet to be specified) role for international experts and the passage of a victims and witnesses protection act are encouraging signs that the new government intends to break with this tradition and embark upon a genuine transitional justice process. But the proof of a change will come in how Sri Lanka treats the most vulnerable victims of the long conflict – those who have survived sexual violence.”
Writing in the Huffington Post, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils chairman James Berry called on the British government to lead the world in seeking proper accountability for Sri Lanka’s atrocities. Highlighting ongoing torture, militarisation and economic disempowerment of the Tamil areas in Sri Lanka, he called for the British government to work to end the disenfranchisement of the Tamil North-East of Sri Lanka. See also: Colombo has a stronghold on North-East of Sri Lanka: Interview with APPG-T Chair James Berry (04 Sep 2015) See extracts from his piece here . Critical moment in Geneva - but will Tamils See justice? Sri Lanka's President Sirisena has already set his face against any international involvement insisting on a domestic tribunal. By contrast, many Tamil people want to see an international, independent justice mechanism of the kinds established in post-conflict Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
Writing in The Guardian , the director of Freedom From Torture (FFT) UK Sonya Sceats, stressed that any process to deal with findings of the UN investigation into Sri Lanka’s mass atrocities that fails to win support of survivors “is doomed to fail before it even begins.” Full piece reproduced below: Sri Lankan war crimes will be laid bare in a harrowing UN report to be published on Wednesday. The Sri Lankan government has already launched its latest charm offensive to convince the world it can deal with these issues, but the international community must stay strong to ensure a proper justice process that wins the confidence of survivors and enables the country to heal.
The United States and international community should continue sustained engagement on Sri Lanka to ensure reform on the island and the passage of a strong resolution at the UN Human Rights Council, said Taylor Dibbert in Foreign Policy on Friday. “In order to help ensure that Colombo fully commits to reform, sustained engagement from the United States and other members of the international community is more important than ever” said Mr Dibbert, adding that “America’s commitment to issues including truth, justice and accountability needs to go beyond January 2017” when US President Barack Obama leaves office. “The war-wear Tamil community—the group that has clearly suffered the most as a result of the war—has virtually no faith in a domestic process,” he said. “If Washington has decided to unequivocally back the Sri Lankan government on this vital issue, it should take a couple of important steps during the Human Rights Council’s upcoming session,” Mr Dibbert added. “First, it is imperative that the United States make clear that sustained, international engagement with Colombo is paramount. Second, and more importantly, the United States should lead the way again at the Human Rights Council and ensure the passage of a strong resolution on Sri Lanka."
The United States’ reported backing for a domestic process of accountability with ‘international technical assistance’ perverts international justice said exiled Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam on Tuesday. Writing in the Asian Correspondent, Mr Tissainayagam said: “the U.S. and the international community are misguided in believing that the two elections and a national government have brought about enduring change that merits Washington to collaborate with Colombo on the forthcoming resolution at the UNHRC. This is because despite regime change there is little evidence that the new government has either the capacity or the political will to domestically investigate, try and punish perpetrators of international crimes.” He went on detail the inadequacy in “important institutions of state that will be vital in determining if the process of accountability effectively delivers justice to the victims”. “Even as he campaigned for the presidency, Sirisena, who has admitted being acting minister of defence “when most of the LTTE leaders were killed,” was insistent that Rajapakse and the military leaders implicated in mass atrocities against Tamils would not be brought before an international tribunal for war crimes,” said Mr Tissainayagam, adding, “Installed in power, the Sirisena government intervened directly to protect the status of those in the military implicated in war crimes”. The journalist also stated that Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe “has been no less emphatic in expressing similar reservations on an international investigation”.
It is up to the Tamil public, civil society and diaspora to ensure that the Tamil National Alliance remains true to the mandate given by the voters, said exiled Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam on Friday. Writing in the Asian Correspondent Mr Tissainayagam noted Tamil discontent at ambiguous aspects of the Tamil National Alliance’s manifesto, and called on, “Tamil voters, Tamil civil society – especially organisations such as the Tamil Civil Society Forum – and the Tamil diaspora to keep the TNA accountable and not deviate from its policy statements declared before elections.”
Marking the ninth anniversary of the Sencholai massacre when 53 school girls were killed by a Sri Lankan military air strike on a children's home, Together Against Genocide (TAG) published an account of the incident based on interviews. The following account written by Shash Trevett is based on interviews to Together Against Genocide (TAG). Personal details of Meena (not her real name), place names and dates have been changed to protect her identity. It was early in the morning of 14th August 2006. Meena was at home getting ready to attend a computer course at her school. She had completed her A Level examinations a couple of months before, and was shoring up her qualifications further. At 7.30am that morning, Meena was outside her family home when she saw Kfir planes belonging to the Sri Lankan Air Force fly over her house. A few seconds later she heard a loud explosion, accompanied by a bright light. Terrified, she dropped to the ground, covering her ears, trying to protect herself from the sounds of the aerial bombardment.