PHOTO BY: Credit: Amnesty International
Civilians trapped between Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, Sri Lanka, May 2009, during the last month of the war.

Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields



Washington, DC – The United States on Tuesday reiterated its warning to Sri Lanka, echoing the concerns of the international community for President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government to take steps to address the issues of human rights, accountability and reconciliation.

“The United States and really all of our friends across the international community have underscored the need for Sri Lanka to make progress on issues of reconciliation, on issues of accountability, and on issues of human rights, ongoing concerns about the political space and human rights in the country,” Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal said at a special press briefing.

“And we are committed to working with our friends in Sri Lanka to see that progress. We would like to see Sri Lanka address these issues through its own processes,” she added.

Responding to a question on the subject, Biswal told international media at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, DC, “We hope that that can in fact be the case. I think that the patience of the international community if real progress is not seen, particularly on issues of accountability, that patience will start to wear thin. And so we urge our friends in Sri Lanka to use the opportunity to show some concrete steps that their own, you know, processes have yielded.”

“Through the LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission), there are a set of recommendations. I think that those are exactly the points that we’d like to see progress on, and we’ve encouraged them to do that,” she concluded.

The comments from one of the top American diplomats were referring to the controversial final phase in 2009 of a sanguinary 26 year war raged by Sri Lanka’s army to defeat the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the island nation.

Earlier this year, the UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on March 20 passed a US supported resolution highly critical of the role of the army and encouraged President Rajapakse’s government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into alleged war crimes.

After the passage of the resolution, Washington asked Colombo to “implement the plan that they have never implemented. They should listen to the words of the international community.”

Answering a question at the daily press briefing on March 22, Victoria Nuland, the US State Department spokesperson, said, “We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its obligations to its own people. The resolution very clearly expresses the support of the international community for Sri Lanka, addressing its outstanding issues related to reconciliation and for meeting its obligations for accountability, which it has not yet done.”

Asked what the US would recommend if Colombo doesn’t take necessary action as stipulated in the resolution, Nuland said, “We want to see the Sri Lankans take their own decisions. As we’ve said before, if those are not forthcoming, the international community will look at whether there are other steps we can take.”

India had joined 24 other countries to pass the resolution, while 13 voted against it, with eight abstaining, but political pundits felt Delhi could have done more to pressurize its tiny island neighbor to bring justice for thousands of Tamils.

The resolution failed to demand an independent international investigation and this was highlighted in a statement from Amnesty International.

Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka expert, said then, “It is regrettable that the resolution fails to establish an independent and international investigation into the armed conflict, and alleged crimes under international law by both the government and the Tamil Tigers.”

Foster had reiterated the need for an international probe, saying, “It is clear that the Sri Lankan government is unwilling and unable to investigate these events itself.”

Regarding the ongoing tightening of the government’s grip on power, Foster accused the Sri Lankan government of cracking down on dissenting views. “Human rights defenders, journalists and the judiciary are among those that have been targeted through threats, harassment or even violent attacks – this has to stop,” said Foster.

Amnesty International expressed concern at reports of enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture, threats to the rule of law, religious discrimination, and intimidation of civil society activists and journalists. The organization highlighted the cases of the recent sacking of the top judge in a process domestic court and a wave of hardline Buddhist attacks on Muslims and Christians.

A 2011 UN investigation reported it was possible up to 40,000 people had been killed in the final five months alone and concluded there was credible evidence of war crimes.

An investigative reporting documentary produced by Rajesh Sundaram, Tejinder Singh, Prakash Ezumalai and NewsX makes a compelling case of genocide against Sri Lanka, as told through never before seen footage and by never before been recorded witnesses.

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