Insider Account of Government Forces Torturing Civilians

by Stuart Bell, ‘The National Post,’ Canada, November 29, 2012

[T]he captain… was transferred to Colombo, where he helped with search and cordon operations that rounded up ethnic Tamils. He said he knew the army was torturing, beating and raping civilians.

“I admit that it is a harassment of these people,” he said. “I admit that.”…
[T]he board ruled in February he was not eligible for refugee protection because he was complicit in crimes against humanity.

Sri Lankan Army deserter gives ‘rare’ insider account of government forces torturing civilians

Passport photo of Ravindra Watudura Bandanage, who was a captain in the Sri Lanka Army until he fled to Canada and deserted. He has told immigration officials the army ordered him to place a bomb in the home of a Tamil Member of parliament in Sri Lanka. / Federal Court of Canada

Passport photo of Ravindra Watudura Bandanage, who was a captain in the Sri Lanka Army until he fled to Canada and deserted. He has told immigration officials the army ordered him to place a bomb in the home of a Tamil Member of parliament in Sri Lanka. / Federal Court of Canada

An officer in the Sri Lanka Army, who fled to Canada and claimed he was ordered to plant explosives at the home of an outspoken opposition politician, is raising new questions about military abuses committed during the island nation’s long civil war.

Captain Ravindra Watudura Bandanage, 38, deserted after flying to Toronto in October 2009.

He has since told Canadian immigration officials he was aware of torture and other crimes carried out by government forces against minority Tamils.

Testifying at his refugee hearing, he said a colonel ordered him to place bomb materials in the home of a member of parliament named “Silva Jilingam,” an apparent reference to M.K. Sivajilingam, a controversial Sri Lankan MP then aligned with the Tamil National Alliance party.

But the captain said he refused and was transferred to Colombo, where he helped with search and cordon operations that rounded up ethnic Tamils. He said he knew the army was torturing, beating and raping civilians.

“I admit that it is a harassment of these people,” he said. “I admit that.”

While there has been mounting evidence both sides in the Sri Lankan conflict committed atrocities, the testimony is noteworthy because it comes from a veteran former commissioned officer.

Passport photo of Ravindra Watudura Bandanage, who was a captain in the Sri Lanka Army until he fled to Canada and deserted. He has told immigration officials the army ordered him to place a bomb in the home of a Tamil Member of parliament in Sri Lanka. / Federal Court of Canada

Frances Harrison, a British journalist and author of Still Counting the Dead, a new book that tells the stories of survivors of the brutal end of the civil war, agreed it was unusual to hear such allegations from an ex-soldier and member of the country’s ethnic Sinhalese majority.

“A few Sinhalese have helped bring out war crimes evidence from Sri Lanka but, assuming this testimony is truthful, it’s unheard of for a Sinhalese soldier to speak out openly about human rights violations. It would be a huge blow to the Sri Lankan government,” the former BBC correspondent said.

Both the Tamil Tigers rebels and the government forces have been widely accused of conducting themselves with reckless disregard for the welfare of civilians. While the rebels forced children to fight and used civilians as human shields, the army shelled populated areas and executed captives, according to several international investigations.

“We remain tremendously concerned about the lack of accountability for the actions taken by both parties at the end of the war,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the National Post in an interview Friday. “We are deeply concerned about the lack of reconciliation and the authoritarian trend we’ve seen in many government actions in recent months.”

The captain’s allegations come amid growing international pressure for an independent investigation into the final months of the Sri Lankan civil war. Two weeks ago, a UN review concluded the international body had failed to protect civilians despite verified evidence of atrocities.

A kung fu champion who joined the army in 1993, Mr. Watudura Bandanage told the Immigration & Refugee Board he had been trained in counterinsurgency.

While he denied taking part in combat, the IRB did not believe him.

He recounted how, in 2008, a colonel had asked him “to do something which was not right…. He said there is an order in regards to this MP, there’s an order from the Defence Ministry…. I was asked to go to this MP’s residence and place some explosive material and detonator, and maybe they had planned to blame him for something and make him leave that area and to do something in that area that way or maybe they wanted to get rid of him.”

The Sri Lankan forces routinely framed government opponents during the war to discredit them and justify their arrests, said Gary Anandasangaree, a Toronto lawyer who has been making presentations about human rights violations in Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. But he said it was “rare” to hear such an account from a former soldier.

In his refugee claim, Mr. Watudura Bandanage said he spent 16 years in the army, but feared for his life because he had complained to police about a prominent politician and his connection to drugs and prostitution.

He said he had also leaked sensitive information to a Sri Lankan newspaper.

“I know my life is at risk if I go back to Sri Lanka,” he said.

A tank drives its to Puthukudiyiruppu during 2009 fighting between the Sri Lanka army the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Nir Elias / Reuters / Files

But the board ruled in February he was not eligible for refugee protection because he was complicit in crimes against humanity. It said the fact he was asked to place a bomb at an elected official’s home showed he was a trusted officer and aware of the “relentless brutality” of the Sri Lanka Army toward Tamil civilians.

“I find that during the last few years of the civil war in Sri Lanka, which includes the entire period that the claimant was a captain in the Sri Lankan army, military forces conducted ongoing widespread and systematic attacks on the civilian population in Sri Lanka. I find that the military forces of Sri Lanka committed countless crimes against humanity,” IRB member Michal Mivasair wrote.

Mr. Watudura Bandanage’s appeal to the Federal Court of Canada was dismissed last week.

“I think it’s very significant,” John Argue, Amnesty International Canada’s co-ordinator for Sri Lanka, said of the ex-soldier’s allegations.

“I hope it gets discussed publicly because then we get closer to what really happened in the last stages of the armed conflict and could have a serious discussion about accountability.”

National Post

• Email: sbell@nationalpost.com

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

And the Ethnic Conflict

Note that as the years go by, individuals are no longer identified as ‘Tamil,’ although all cases refered to the Working Group are indisputably of one ethnic group, part of the wider effort to forget that Sri Lanka’s is a language, religion & geography-based conflict. — Ed/

From the Working Group’s cases database: http://www.unwgaddatabase.org/un/

49/2011

  • Countries: Sri Lanka
  • Persons: Jegasothy Thamotharampillai;Sutharsini Thamotharampillai
  • Adopted Date: 9/2/2011

Mother and daughter arrested without warrant in connection with their deceased son and brother, respectively, alleged ties to a separatist group. A court ordered the detainees releases; however, the Minister of Defense has refused to execute the court order and has appealed the release order, in an alleged attempt to delay the proceedings and to coerce confessions from the detainees about their family member’s alleged engagement in terrorist activities. The Working Group finds the government in contravention of articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, falling within categories II and III.

30/2008

  • Countries: Sri Lanka
  • Persons: Gunasundaram Jayasundaram
  • Adopted Date: 9/12/2008
A dual Sri Lankan-Irish citizen residing in Singapore arrested upon arriving at the airport in Colombo. The detainee was arrested without a warrant and detained on the orders of the Ministry of Defense with only limited access to counsel or consular officials. The government claims the detainee arrived in Sri Lanka with high-powered communication equipment and was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam terrorist organization. The Working Group found the government in contravention of articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 9, 14, and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, falling within categories II and III.

8/2005

  • Countries: Sri Lanka
  • Persons: Maxilan Anthonypillai Robert;Thirumagal Robert;Loganathan Saravanamuthu;Aarokiyarasa Yogarajah;Selvarasa Sinnappu;Sritharan Suppiah;Selvaranjan Krishnan;Krishnapillai Masilamani;Akilan Selvanayagam;Mahesan Ramalingan;Rasalingam Thandavan;Sarma C.I. Ragupathy;Sarma Raguphaty R.S. Vasanthy
  • Adopted Date: 5/25/2005

13 ethnic Tamils arrested under suspicion of involvement with an armed Tamil opposition group. Detainees allege they were held without charges or trial for several months, subjected to torture, and forced to make self-incriminating statements. The Working Group finds the government in contravention of article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, falling within category III.

24/2001

  • Countries: Sri Lanka
  • Persons: Edward Anton Amaradas
  • Adopted Date: 11/29/2001
14 Sri Lankans of Tamil origin arrested without being charged and forced under duress to sign self-incriminating statements in a language not understood by most of them. The Sri Lankan government claimed that the detentions were consistent with constitutional rights and local laws designed to counter terrorist acts by a separatist group. For some of the detainees there was no evidence presented that they had actually been detained. Other detainees had been released. The Working Group declines to rule on the arbitrariness of the detention of those detainees whose detentions had not been proven or who had been released. For the remaining four detainees, the Working Group finds the government in contravention of article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 9(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, falling within category III.

21/2001

  • Countries: Sri Lanka
  • Persons: Chinniah Atputharajah
  • Adopted Date: 11/28/2001

13 Sri Lankans of Tamil origin arrested without being charged. The government claimed that the detentions were consistent with constitutional rights and local laws designed to counter terrorist acts by a separatist group. Some of the detainees had been released; some had been convicted; and for some no information was provided. The Working Group declines to rule on the arbitrariness of the detention of those detainees who had been released. The Working Group finds that the detainees who had been convicted were not arbitrarily detained. The Working Group finds that the detention of the detainees for whom no information was supplied was inconsistent with article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, falling within category III.

1/1996

  • Countries: Sri Lanka
  • Adopted Date: 5/23/1996

36 Sri Lankan nationals arrested and detained. The Working Group finds 24 of the detainees are no longer being detained and files those cases. The 11 remaining detainees have been charged with crimes, but no violations of the right to fair trial have been indicated nor information provided to the Working Group as to the facts motivating their imprisonment. The Working Group maintains the remaining 11 cases pending for further information.

UN Has a Second Chance to Right Wrongs on Sri Lanka

by Gordon Weiss, ‘The Australian,’ November 16, 2012

THERE is little doubt that in 2009 the government of Sri Lanka pulled off one of the nastiest episodes of mass killing since the Rwandan genocide – and got away with it…
[T]hese efforts morphed into the International Crimes Evidence Project, which is now led by the Sydney-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre. ICEP is probably now the single largest repository of evidence related to war crimes in Sri Lanka in the world. ICEP’s personnel includes veterans from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Next month, ICEP will hand a brief of evidence to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, with evidence gathered and attested using the highest standards of international criminal law. While Sri Lanka is certain to argue next March that it has given a true account of the end of the war, ICEP’s brief will demonstrate otherwise.

THERE is little doubt that in 2009 the government of Sri Lanka pulled off one of the nastiest episodes of mass killing since the Rwandan genocide – and got away with it. Tens of thousands of civilians were massacred, with barely a trickle of Syria-like imagery emerging from the battle zone.

THERE is little doubt that in 2009 the government of Sri Lanka pulled off one of the nastiest episodes of mass killing since the Rwandan genocide – and got away with it. Tens of thousands of civilians were massacred, with barely a trickle of Syria-like imagery emerging from the battle zone.In a new report released in New York, the UN has shouldered its portion of responsibility for this bloody catastrophe. It is a heavy burden indeed.

The Petrie Report predicates its scouring of the UN’s role on a vast and intricate web of evidence pointing to crimes committed by both government and Tamil Tiger forces. Of the two, government forces bear the greater culpability.

Despite a clear advantage over the near-vanquished rebels, the army bombed packed hospitals, used starvation tactics, executed civilian captives, raped and killed female guerillas and corralled women and children into “safe zones” before shelling them. When that was done, it interrogated and then killed the Tamil Tiger political and military leadership, along with their families.

The UN’s investigators conclude that the UN system faltered just when it was most needed, from the field level up to the powerful Security Council, where Australia is now taking a seat.

While many UN staff acted bravely and dutifully, other key staff forgot their first responsibility, the protection of life. Instead, according to the report, they favoured bureaucratic stratagems, trading off civilian lives against misconceived priorities. While the Sri Lankan government successfully shrouded the kill zone from the prying eyes of the international press, UN dissembling obscured it further. For its part, the UN Security Council studiously ignored the warning signs so obvious in a civil war. Syria, now in the glare of international scrutiny as a result of media coverage, is a useful direct comparison.

In Sri Lanka in 2009, with a battlefield blacked out by the government, the gathering massacres were out of sight, and thus more easily kept out of mind. While the council has met dozens of times over the Syria crisis, and has sent in observers, in 2009 it failed to officially meet even once on Sri Lanka. It refused to consider the issue despite solid indications from UN personnel, diplomatic missions, satellite images and individual member states that something awful was unfolding. Did Sri Lanka read this as a nod to go ahead, whatever the cost?

For its part, the UN Secretariat failed on two fronts.

First, as the Petrie report tells it, the Secretary-General’s team recoiled from telling the Security Council in stark terms what it didn’t want to hear. Then, as UN staff buckled under intimidation and threats from Sri Lanka’s government, the UN Secretariat withheld the kind of support its staff needed to push back.

When Australian UN humanitarian worker James Elder warned that children were being killed, a government official accused him of supporting terrorists. The government expelled Elder. That government official, Palitha Kohona, is now Sri Lanka’s representative at the UN. His deputy is a former general accused of mass killing.

For UN loyalists, the report pulls no punches, and is uncomfortable reading. It will almost certainly lead to reform, despite the cynics who believe that the UN is merely a talk-fest.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is making good on his commitment to full accountability in his realm. The fact that the report was written by insiders (Charles Petrie, a former UN diplomat, was supported by a team of brilliant UN staff), means its criticisms and recommendations are founded on a solid and largely disinterested familiarity with how the UN functions in a crisis, and how it ought to function better next time.

“Never again” might seem cynical, if it were not for the many who continue to work for the UN and who believe in that phrase, despite Rwanda, Srebrenica and now Sri Lanka. But it is vital to remember that the UN’s mea culpa moment pales alongside the culpability of the government of Sri Lanka, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers. Theirs is a sovereign government, democratically elected, which chose a deliberate path that led to the commissioning of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In a post-9/11 world, the mere mention of the word “terrorist” apparently provided a licence to kill large numbers of Sri Lanka’s citizens. Given that the current government controls the crime scene, and has excluded all outsiders, the dead will remain uncounted for many years. Yet the government of Sri Lanka gave a written guarantee to the Secretary-General that it would provide a true account of what happened at the end of the war. Indeed, next March, Sri Lanka is due to front the Human Rights Council in Geneva. There, the government will describe just how it has complied (or not) with its guarantee. And here, oddly, Australia has an additional if little-known role. Some years ago, under the auspices of the Australian chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, Australian lawyers began listening to the stories of Tamil refugees arriving on our shores.

They deposed witnesses to the war and opened files. In time, these efforts morphed into the International Crimes Evidence Project, which is now led by the Sydney-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre. ICEP is probably now the single largest repository of evidence related to war crimes in Sri Lanka in the world. ICEP’s personnel includes veterans from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Next month, ICEP will hand a brief of evidence to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, with evidence gathered and attested using the highest standards of international criminal law. While Sri Lanka is certain to argue next March that it has given a true account of the end of the war, ICEP’s brief will demonstrate otherwise.

The UN has a second chance at righting the wrongs committed in Sri Lanka, and Australia has a role, both through ICEP and our presence in the UN Security Council chamber.

Gordon Weiss was the UN’s spokesman in Sri Lanka. He is the author of The Cage and a founding adviser to ICEP.

Amnesty UCLU panel asks ‘Sri Lanka: Genocide?’

by ‘Tamil Guardian,’ London, November 20, 2012

Madurika Rasaratnam of TAG argued…”The idea of genocide is useful to understand the past, the present and the future of Sri Lanka. The label of genocide captures the process that has occurred in the post-independence Sri Lanka…”
Outlining his own personal view – “I think there is a possibility it is genocide”, Carver said that nonetheless it should not be activists that call it a genocide first, but academics.

Left to right: Thusiyan Nandakumar – TYOUK, Fred Carver – Sri Lanka Campaign, Prof Neil Mitchell – chair, Madurika Rasaratnam – TAG and Alan Keenan – ICG. Photographs Amnesty society UCLU.

To a packed room of London university students, panellists Thusiyan Nandakumar of the Tamil Youth Organisation UK (TYOUK), Fred Carver of Sri Lanka Campaign, Madurika Rasaratnam of Tamils Against Genocide (TAG) and Alan Keenan of the International Crisis Group (ICG) discussed the question – ‘Sri Lanka: Genocide?’.

The event held on 13th November was chaired by Professor Neil Mitchell (International Relations, UCL) and hosted by the Amnesty International society at University of College London University (UCLU).

Criticising the conduct of the Sri Lankan state over the past three years, Alan Keenan of the ICG described the government’s killing of civilians as “not accidental”. The “machine” the Sri Lankan government used to fight the LTTE said Keenan, “what we might call state terror” has been “actively chugging along since the end of the war.” He continued, “the hope was that with the end of the war, the apparatus to destroy dissent would be put away or could be slowly cranked down. Unfortunately it hasn’t.”

Following on from Keenan, Madurika Rasaratnam of TAG argued that the current issues highlighted were “not a departure from the norm, but rather a development of Sinhala Buddhist state formation”.

She continued,

“The idea of genocide is useful to understand the past, the present and the future of Sri Lanka. The label of genocide captures the process that has occurred in the post-independence Sri Lanka. If you look at post-2009 and the policies that were in place in the 60s and 70s there is absolute continuity.”

Highlighting the “Sinhala Buddhist transformation of state, society and economy”, as well as an ongoing process of colonisation, and militarisation of the North-East, Rasaratnam argued that “fixing Sri Lanka needs to be understood in terms of confronting the entrenched Sri Lankan Buddhist idealogy [and] affirming that Tamils have a right to exist as a nation, with a right to self-determination.”

“Why is the Sri Lankan state committing human rights violations? It’s not because it is a human rights violator per se, but because it is a means to an end [Sinhala Buddhist state formation]”

“Militarisation cannot be understood except as part of this rolling process of state formation”.

As to whether the size of Sri Lanka’s massive all-Sinhala military reflects a response to unemployment, Rasaratnam pointed out that Sri Lanka’s actions differed significantly from other conflicted states with unemployment. Nigeria, for example, “did not increase their miliary, and presumably they too have issues with unemployment.”

Stressing the need for justice, Fred Carver of Sri Lanka Campaign said, “many, many people have a fear of trying to get genocide to be taken seriously, but I don’t think we should be scared.” Outlining his own personal view – “I think there is a possibility it is genocide”, Carver said that nonetheless it should not be activists that call it a genocide first, but academics. “What happened in the final days of the war may well fit genocide in a Srebrenica sense”, he continued, “but equally there could be an argument made that when the LTTE forced the Muslims out, that could be a cultural genocide. Or the JVP up-rising.”

Thusiyan Nandakumar of the TYO UK argued that “genocide is not a single explosion of violence”, but a longer term process with “peaks of violence”.

“If you look at the act of 2009, it had all happened before. That machinery and mechanism was in place long before the LTTE came into being. And now what you’re seeing post-2009, is increased militarisation and colonisations.”

Dismissing the notion of the situation in the island being one of only human rights violations, Nandakumar said,

“If you take the ethnic dimension out of it, it is to white wash what is happening. Tamils are disproportionately targeted, and it is exactly because they are Tamil. Even the targeting of Sinhalese journalists and activists was often precisely because of their work towards publicising atrocities towards Tamils… because they are seen to be undermining the Sinhala Buddhist project. Any threats to challenge this Sinhala Buddhist hegemony are dealt with even if it comes from the Sinhalese.”

He added,

“If you look now at May 18th, it’s still seen as a day of celebration in the South. For the Tamils it is a day of mourning. There is this divide, this gap in what is happening. There are even differences in the way that the state deals with unrest. There was an incident where the Sinhalese protested against the death of a Sinhalese inmate. Compare that to the government’s response to Tamils protesting against the grease devil attacks last year. The Tamils were rounded up and taken to the army, and many were assaulted by the military.”

Asked by a member of the audience, what would be the Sri Lankan government’s counter to arguments presented by the panellists, Alan Keenan said,

“They would say, ‘we are not colonising the north’. But there is certainly a cultural assault on the North. It has been been a hundred percent Tamil speaking for centuries”.

Listing examples of colonisation such as the reversal of road sides, and state aided settlements in the North-East, Keenan noted,

“the government would say we are ‘developing the north’. The problem is, who benefits? Who is doing it and who benefits? And it is certainly not the long term interests of the Tamils that the government has.”

“The problem is, who benefits. Who is doing it, and who benefits. And it is certainly not the long term interests of Tamils that the GoSL has.”

“I would certainly agree with Madurika that the goverment of Sri Lanka is a Sinhala nationalist government. Institutionalised to develop the sinhala interests, and it certainly enjoys popular support by the Sinhala.”

“And it is destroying the material conditions in the north, that the Tamils would use to demonstrate the Tamils have a special status for some kind of autonomy.”

“It is clear to me and anyone who understands this that that is their central policy.”

“Sinhala nationalist agenda to destroy the basis of Tamil nationalism. To destroy the ability of Tamils to say that we are a nation.”

In a written statement that was read out Yolande Foster of Amnesty International’s South Asian desk said,

We released a press release after the Sri Lankan UPR criticising recent attacks on lawyers and the judicary.

On 5 November, Amnesty International supported the visit of Dr Manoharan, father of Ragihar Manoharan, to bring his fight for justice to the attention of UN member states at the Human Rights Council.

I would like to take this opportunity to say that Amnesty International approaches the issue of what happened in the armed conflict and the months afterwards  through the lens of international human rights law & international humanitarian law (IHL).

The term genocide can be used for political purposes or as a rhetorical flourish or can be expressed in a heartfelt way by victims themselves.

Amnesty International’s description of the violations that have happened must come from empirical evidence  –  evidence that would stand up in a court of law, so we speak about alleged war crimes and violations of IHL.

I think it is vital that an Amnesty International event on Sri Lanka also refers to the human rights of all Sri Lankans in the country – attacks on Sinhala journalists and lawyers, widespread custodial torture of all Sri Lankans in detention as well as the very serious issues of lack of durable solutions for those in the N & E and violations against Tamils in the war & ongoing through arbitrary detention.

 

Army Inquiry On ‘War Crimes’ No Longer Credible

by Laksiri Fernando, ‘Colombo Telegraph,’ November 6, 2012

According to what the former Attorney-General Mohan Peiris told Xinhua newsagency on the same day (5 November), the Army Court of Inquiry has had only 50 sittings for the whole of last ten months. That is little more than one sitting per week. It has only recorded statements from only 20 witnesses. These statistics speak very poorly of the so-called investigations now going on or claimed to be going on. It is not clear how many cases or incidents that they have been investigating. All these are kept as guarded secrets. That is why these investigations are considered like ‘asking evidence from robber’s mother’ (horage ammagen sakki aheema). It should be kept in mind that these are only preliminary inquiries. For any military prosecution, the cases have to be filed before the General Court Martial.

Army spokesman Ruwan Wanigasooriya yesterday (5 November) told Xinhua newspaper that the army investigations into some incidents or alleged ‘war crimes’ still continuing. This is the first time for a long period that we heard about it after its so-called appointment in January this year. There must be a particular reason why the statement was made to the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China instead of local newspapers or any other. It appears that even China is watching what is happening in Sri Lanka, as it has to unfortunately defend Sri Lanka and that means the present government in the Security Council and other forums.

I browsed through the Ministry of Defence website seeking some information. It is full of political propaganda for the Defence Secretary and the President, two of the three brothers who apparently govern the country, apart from some items still glorifying the war and news about the three armed forces. The latter might be quite permissible for a defence website compared to the atrocious political propaganda.

Of course there was one portal titled “War Crimes” just above a bigger window on “LTTE Atrocities.” I was trying to find any news about the so-called army inquiry there, but none. It largely consisted of reports like “Humanitarian Operation: Factual Analysis,” “Sri Lanka’s Humanitarian Effort” or counter propaganda for the international accusations such as “Appalling Journalism – Jon Snow and Channel 4,” and “Lies Agreed Upon.” At last, there was an item called “Let’s Take Accountability Seriously,” and then I thought that might be the place to find some information. No, it consists of an article by The Nation newspaper dated 12 March 2012.

The situation is the same in the Army website, although it is more professional than the Defence Ministry one. The question is why the inquiries are so secretive given the public importance of the matter, nationally and internationally. There is no question that the army did the right thing by defeating the LTTE militarily. But it should have been done respecting the international humanitarian and human rights law and laws of the country. Torture or killing of the unarmed or any such thing is not permissible even under the domestic law. There are so many other norms that the armies should follow under the international law. The protection of civilians is of paramount importance. Deviations or atrocities in other countries, including the US, or the atrocities by the LTTE are not an excuse. That is why the government declared a ‘zero civilian casualty’ policy in the first place. Now it should inquire with credibility whether that policy was adhered to and whether other violations of the international law have occurred.

When the army inquiry was appointed in January, it was stated that the matters referred to in the LLRC report and accusations of the Channel 4 videos would be investigated. The UNHRC recommendations in March were much broader to investigate all accusations including what were highlighted in the UN Darusman report. But no new investigation mechanism has been set up outside the army inquiry. The government also has not shown any remorse on what happened or might have happened during the last stages of the war, as those are the direct responsibility of the present government.

Some of the revelations or alleged revelations as to what happened during the last stages of the war are extremely shocking to say the least. The naked body of Isaipriya among others with audio voices of army personnel, bullet ridden body of a child who is alleged to be Prabhakaran’s 12 years old son and the video footage of the questioning of the LTTE leader Ramesh after capture and then the pictures of his battered body are some clear examples. These cannot be condoned just because they were linked to the LTTE. In ordinary parlance these are called sahagahana aparada or ‘unforgivable crimes.’ Even if one may argue cynically that the videos are completely doctored; these are matters to be investigated. Anybody who supported the government in good faith in defeating the LTTE, like me, cannot condone these crimes. More profound matter is the credible allegations as to the shelling of the civilian areas (including hospitals) even when the demise of the LTTE was abundantly clear. The quoted numbers may be controversial (between 10,000 and 40,000) but the matters need to be impartially and transparently investigated.

The deeds of ‘Good Samaritan’ during the war perhaps by some of the soldiers are not excuses to hide the crimes committed even by a few. There is no reason to delay or not to investigate these allegations credibly unless the high command or the government is clearly responsible for these alleged crimes. The government’s credibility is becoming more and more suspicious because of the way the government is handing human rights and justice issues since the end of the war in the country. Development or even resettlement/rehabilitation is not enough fig leaves to hide them.

According to what the former Attorney-General Mohan Peiris told Xinhua newsagency on the same day (5 November), the Army Court of Inquiry has had only 50 sittings for the whole of last ten months. That is little more than one sitting per week. It has only recorded statements from only 20 witnesses. These statistics speak very poorly of the so-called investigations now going on or claimed to be going on. It is not clear how many cases or incidents that they have been investigating. All these are kept as guarded secrets. That is why these investigations are considered like ‘asking evidence from robber’s mother’ (horage ammagen sakki aheema). It should be kept in mind that these are only preliminary inquiries. For any military prosecution, the cases have to be filed before the General Court Martial.

It is possible that some cases may be filed before the General Court Martial in view of the next UNHRC sessions in March 2013 as a show case. But this is not what the UNHRC Resolution expected from Sri Lanka on the issues of accountability. By the time of the resolution, the UNHRC knew about the army inquiries and what they wanted was not selective inquiries. The resolution ‘called upon’ the government “to take all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations” including accountability and ‘requested’ the government to “address alleged violations of international law.” The diplomatic language in the resolution would not be an excuse for Sri Lanka to take the recommendations leniently.

The UN itself is ‘soul-searching’ on what happened in Sri Lanka and its own mistakes during the crucial days and a report on the subject by Charles Petrie will be submitted to the Secretary General next month. Marzuki Darusman is still heading an expert panel on Sri Lanka advising the SG and has recently said that accountability in the case of Sri Lanka primarily means “what happened to the 40,000 civilians” (Daily Mirror, 5 November 2012).

I was one who initially questioned the need for an ‘international inquiry’ on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka in view of the army appointed court of investigation (Asian Tribune, 20 February 2012), but at present it is abundantly clear that the army inquiry is no longer credible given the above explained reasons. While it is primarily the responsibility of a credible government to investigate what happens within its jurisdiction in respect of war crimes and/or violations of human rights, if that government fails to do so within a reasonable period of time with credibility and impartiality, it rests upon the international system (UN, ICC and other bodies) to do so or otherwise justice would not be done to the victims, the perpetrators would go scot-free and the necessary lessons would not be learnt.