Senators Urge War Crimes Probe

Thousands of civilians died in the final months of the war when the Sri Lankan military launched a decisive offensive against ethnic Tamil rebels. Sri Lanka set up a commission to investigate alleged abuses, but rights groups say the military is not being held to account.

The Obama administration has called for steps toward accountability but has not called for an international investigation.

Senators Urge Obama Administration to Seek International War Crimes Probe in Sri Lankaby ‘The Washington Post,’ January 29, 2013(AP)— Two senators are urging the Obama administration to seek an independent international investigation into allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka.Democrats Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Patrick Leahy of Vermont sent a letter Tuesday to outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying Sri Lanka’s government has done nothing to bring to justice those responsible for atrocities in the civil war that ended in 2009.

Thousands of civilians died in the final months of the war when the Sri Lankan military launched a decisive offensive against ethnic Tamil rebels. Sri Lanka set up a commission to investigate alleged abuses, but rights groups say the military is not being held to account.The Obama administration has called for steps toward accountability but has not called for an international investigation.Senators Press for War Crimes Probeby Agence-France Press, January 30, 2013

WASHINGTON — Two US senators on Tuesday renewed calls for an international investigation into potential war crimes in Sri Lanka, accusing Colombo of failing to address legitimate concerns.

Senators Patrick Leahy and Bob Casey, prominent voices on foreign policy in President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party, said the island had failed to carry out recommendations from its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

“The Sri Lankan people deserve better. In fact, as the government of Sri Lanka fails to implement LLRC recommendations, the outlook for human and political rights in Sri Lanka appears to be getting worse,” the senators wrote in a letter to outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The senators voiced concern over the recent impeachment, backed by President Mahinda Rajapakse, of the chief justice and highlighted charges of human rights groups that authorities have intimidated the media.

“Accountability is a necessary precursor to reconciliation and a stable democracy in Sri Lanka,” the senators wrote.

“It is clear to us that the LLRC process is mired in bias and delays, and only an independent, international investigation will achieve real accountability,” they wrote.

Sri Lanka has been accused of killing as many as 40,000 civilians in 2009 in a final offensive that defeated the Tamil Tigers, who had waged a decades-long insurgency and were also criticized for tactics such as suicide bombings.

Sri Lanka has denied that any civilians were killed and rejected an international probe.

The Obama administration has stopped short of supporting human rights groups’ calls for an international probe in Sri Lanka but has gradually lost patience with Rajapakse.

US officials announced Monday in Colombo that the United States for the second straight year will bring a resolution before the UN Human Rights Council to pressure Sri Lanka over its record.

Impeachment of the Sri Lankan Chief Justice

by International Crisis Group, January 17, 2013

Indeed, the two issues – this assault on the independence of the judiciary and the accusations of war crimes – are interlinked and must be seen as such. The Sri Lankan government’s insistence that Sri Lanka should be left to investigate and remedy its own shortcomings with regard to the latter looks increasingly (if more evidence were required) implausible as one of the last remaining independent institutions – the court – is so openly dismantled.

Sri Lankan Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake

Sri Lankan Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake. PHOTO: Centre for Policy Alternatives

The impeachment of the Sri Lankan Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake is possibly a watershed moment in Sri Lankan law and politics. President Rajapaksa’s 13 January decision to ratify the impeachment decided two days earlier by a parliament controlled by his ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance is the latest step in the gradual but systematic dismantling of the rule of law. The move, in violation of the Sri Lankan constitution and basic principles of due process and in disregard of rulings by the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, leaves Sri Lanka’s already battered democracy on life-support.

The decision to impeach the Chief Justice is a direct message that the Rajapaksas will continue to consolidate their power without regard to democracy, the rule of law or human rights.  In that sense, it complements the administration’s disregard of international law in the military actions that resulted in the deaths of some 40,000 or more civilians in 2009 and its refusal to investigate credible allegations of war crimes.

Indeed, the two issues – this assault on the independence of the judiciary and the accusations of war crimes – are interlinked and must be seen as such.  The Sri Lankan government’s insistence that Sri Lanka should be left to investigate and remedy its own shortcomings with regard to the latter looks increasingly (if more evidence were required) implausible as one of the last remaining independent institutions – the court – is so openly dismantled.  Further, without addressing, fully and transparently, the facts of the war’s denouement the seeds of future conflict remain embedded in Sri Lankan society.  Ongoing persecution of Tamils; the shrinking of political space for Sinhalese civil society; and the neutering of the courts creates an alarming trifecta which, if left unaddressed, does not augur well for the country’s future.

Sri Lanka’s international partners need to take note and frame their policies in light of the Sri Lankan government’s persistent rejection of domestic and international law.

The initiation of impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice, in November 2012, was seen in large part as a politically-motivated response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Divineguma case. In a judgment signed by the Chief Justice, the court temporarily blocked legislation to establish a new government department that would usurp many provincial powers over welfare and development policy and bring hundreds of millions of dollars worth of government programs under the control of the economic development ministry, headed by the president’s brother, Basil Rajapaksa.

The impeachment proceeded in disregard of basic principles of due process:

  • the eleven-member parliamentary select committee considering the case was composed of a clear majority of government members who had already expressed their belief in the Chief Justice’s guilt;
  • the committee denied the Chief Justice sufficient time and information to prepare her defence, even refusing her access to documents and evidence used by the panel members;
  • the Chief Justice was verbally abused by government members of the committee;
  • after informing the Chief Justice that the panel had no plans to call witnesses to give oral evidence, the committee did just that, summoning witnesses to testify immediately after the chief justice and her lawyers quit the hearings in protest at the lack of due process;
  • the committee’s report, which found the Chief Justice guilty on three charges, was completed within twenty-four hours of concluding its hearings.

Despite rulings earlier this month by the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal that the parliamentary process was not constitutional and nullifying the conviction of the Chief Justice by the parliamentary select committee, the parliament nonetheless voted overwhelmingly on 11 January 2013 to endorse the committee’s finding and impeach the Chief Justice. On 13 January, President Rajapaksa ratified the parliament’s decision.

On 15 January, former Attorney General Mohan Pieris, one of the regime’s most loyal apologists, was sworn in to replace Bandaranayake, who was prevented by the police from going to court and forced to vacate her official residence. Nonetheless, Bandaranayake has defiantly asserted that she remains Chief Justice and retains strong support from lawyers and senior judges.

In addition to the immediate danger of violence against dissenting lawyers and activists and/or illegal detentions and other forms of repression, there is the longer-term damage the impeachment will do to democratic institutions; this in turn will threaten the prospects of sustainable peace in a country that should be seeking to emerge from the ravages of a particularly nasty civil war.

In the coming days and weeks, the international community should speak out against the government’s denial of due process in the case of Ms. Bandaranayake and warn clearly and publicly of international sanctions in the event of the violent repression of dissenting judges, lawyers and civil society activists.

The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth has an important role to play. In light of Sri Lanka’s clear and repeated violation of Commonwealth principles, and following his recent welcome expressions of concern about the impeachment, the Commonwealth Secretary-General should refer Sri Lanka to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). Already the Canadian government has called on CMAG to put Sri Lanka on its agenda – other Commonwealth governments should endorse this position and insist that CMAG acts. Unless the impeachment is reversed, the Commonwealth should shift the location of its next heads of government meeting, currently scheduled to take place in Colombo in November 2013.

The UN Human Rights Council

Member states of the Human Rights Council (HRC), which begins its next session on 25 February, should work for strong follow-up to their resolution of March 2012. The impeachment of the Chief Justice is only the most obvious and important example of the Sri Lankan government’s refusal to respond positively to the HRC’s many useful recommendations. Despite government claims to have implemented significant portions of the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) reporting on the civil war’s final months, in fact there has been next to no progress, and none with respect to accountability. On every major category listed in the HRC resolution, the Sri Lankan government has failed to take effective action:

  • there have been no credible investigations into war crimes, disappearances or other serious human rights violations;
  • no independent institutions for investigation or accountability have been established; instead the regime has dismantled the last traces of judicial independence through its assault on the chief justice;
  • rather than moving towards a lasting and fair constitutional settlement of the ethnic conflict through meaningful power-sharing, the President and his brothers have expressed their intention to repeal or weaken the already limited provincial powers granted under the 13th Amendment. (For details see Crisis Group’s November 2012 report, Sri Lanka: Tamil Politics and the Quest for a Political Solution);
  • despite the council and many others calling for the demilitarisation of the Tamil-majority northern province, the Sri Lankan military continues to control virtually all aspects of life in the north, with the civil administration intimidated and sidelined;
  • the government has cracked down hard on Tamil protest in the north, with peaceful demonstrations disrupted by the military, students arrested on groundless charges of working with the LTTE and other forms of dissent denied;
  • dissent among Sinhalese in the south is also under attack, with recent anti-impeachment protests attacked by government thugs while the police looked on and did nothing.

The HRC should note the failure by the government to implement last year’s recommendations and call for an independent investigation into all credible allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, whose broad outlines were laid out in the April 2011 report of the UN Secretary-General’s panel of experts looking at the civil conflict’s conclusion.

Other responses

All of Sri Lanka’s international partners – both bilateral and multilateral – need to determine measures to be taken in response to the Rajapaksa government’s clear contempt for constitutional values and the rule of law.

All those providing bi-lateral and multilateral development assistance – especially the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and International Monetary Fund – should review their programs in light of the political attacks by the Rajapaksa government on the rule of law and its continued failure to address accountability issues stemming from the killing of thousands of non-combatants in 2009.

Sri Lanka to be Tried for Genocide

by Ron Ridenour, ‘Havana Times,’ Cuba, November 10, 2012

“The casualty figure issue is just one factor – which we have highlighted to emphasise our point. Various other factors – such as an examination of the historical background which had laid the basis to the events that led to the military operations in 2009, as well as, whether or not the continuing issues that the Tamil people in the area concerned are facing at the moment are related to this history, needs to be carried out properly to deal with the overall reality.

“Due to the fact that substantial, quantitative and qualitative new evidence has become available, we believe that there are compelling reasons to organize a follow up to the ‘People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka’ to examine the case of Genocide against the Tamil people.”

This follow up session will be held in Germany.

logo-tppSri Lanka to be tried for genocide against Tamils: How will Cuba and its allies respond?

An unprecedented move by internationalists and activists for human rights and justice, one that could inspire controversy among left oriented governments and peoples’ solidarity committees, will take place next spring.

“In April 2013, a panel of international experts will be convened as Judges of the ‘Permanent People’s Tribunal’ to examine reports submitted by many specialized working groups on the accusation of the crime of Genocide against the Government of Sri Lanka and on the accusations against various international actors who had supported and prepared the conditions for the Sri Lankan Government to implement this alleged crime,” stated the Rome-based ‘Permanent People’s Tribunal’ (PPT) on November 3. (1)

This decision is supported organizationally by the ‘Irish Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka’ (IFPSL) based in Dublin and the International Human Rights Association (IMRV) based in Bremen.

In mid January 2010 the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lankan held its sessions in Dublin, Ireland. There were four findings:

1: That the Sri Lankan Government and its military are guilty of War Crimes;
2: That the Sri Lankan Government and its military are guilty of crimes against humanity;
3: That the charge of genocide requires further investigation;
4: That the international community, particularly the UK and USA, share responsibility for the breakdown of the peace process.(2)

It also found that member states of the United Nations had not “complied with their moral obligation to seek justice for the violations of human rights committed during the last period of the war” [Sri Lanka government war against the Tamils].

The PPT was referring to Human Rights Council Resolution S-11/1 of May 27, 2009. Cuba led the majority of members to vote for the Sri Lanka government drafted resolution. The resolution only praised Sri Lanka government for ending the hostilities and for the “liberation” of tens of thousands of Tamils (who were, in fact, up to three hundred thousand Internally Displaced Persons incarcerated for many months and even years in concentration camps).

It only condemned the Tamil Tiger guerrillas (Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam) for terrorism and made no mention of the long-endured suffering, pogroms, indiscrimination and inequality suffered by the Tamil people at the hands of the Sinhalese majority governments and military, and Buddhist monks.

Since the time of the resolution, Cuba has stepped up closer ties with the Mahinda Rajapaksa family government, even inviting him to Cuba as a guest of honor for four days. (3)

The case for genocide

Here are excerpts of the PPT statement concerning the need to investigate the possibility that Sri Lankan governments have been committing genocide against the Tamil people for decades.

“This possibility has become a necessity now, due to the mass of new evidence (substantial, quantitative and qualitative) that has come to light since [2010 session]. At the time we held the ‘Dublin Tribunal’, the real casualty figures remained largely hidden. The official UN figure did not exceed 8000 civilian casualties, while some of the British and French press carried reports estimating the total number of casualties at ‘up to 20,000′. In fact, the Sri Lanka Government maintained a position of ‘zero civilian casualties’ for the full period of the final military offensive!

“However, soon after the Dublin Tribunal, like a dam bursting, details of terrible atrocities and a more realistic estimation of the magnitude of the massacre started surfacing in media.

“The effective embargo in the international media that existed during the eight months of the military offensive – which had helped to prevent a humanitarian opposition to the war to emerge – was starting to break down, eight months after the end of the military project.

“One month after the Tribunal – in February 2010 – appearing on Australia’s ABC Television, the former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka Gordon Weiss contradicted the UN estimate of ‘no more than 8,000 casualties’ stating that ‘anything between 10,000 to 40,000’ civilians may have died during the final siege. Sometime later the Experts’ Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General used the 40,000 figure as its own estimate.

“On January 2011, the Catholic Bishop of Mannar made a submission to the Sri Lankan Government’s own ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC) that according to his calculation, 146,679 people are unaccounted for (he used the Government’s own statistics to show this)…

“The casualty figure issue is just one factor – which we have highlighted to emphasise our point. Various other factors – such as an examination of the historical background which had laid the basis to the events that led to the military operations in 2009, as well as, whether or not the continuing issues that the Tamil people in the area concerned are facing at the moment are related to this history, needs to be carried out properly to deal with the overall reality.

“Due to the fact that substantial, quantitative and qualitative new evidence has become available, we believe that there are compelling reasons to organize a follow up to the ‘People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka’ to examine the case of Genocide against the Tamil people.”

This follow up session will be held in Germany.

Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal was initiated in 1979 by the left socialist and anti-fascist resistance fighter Senator Lelie Basso. He had been a judge on the International War Crimes Tribunal, also know as the Bertrand Russell-Sartre Tribunal, in 1966-7, concerning war crimes committed by the United States against Vietnam, and the 1973-6 investigations regarding war crimes committed by Latin American dictatorships, assisted by the USA. One of Cuba’s few women guerrilla fighters, Melba Hernandez, was one of the judges when she was chairwoman of the Cuba Committee for Solidarity with Viet Nam.

PPT has held more than 40 sessions on war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as genocide, in many parts of the world: US war crimes against Nicaragua, national dictatorship war crimes (usually with the assistance of US military forces and the CIA) against Argentines, Guatemalans, El Salvadorans, Filipinos, the Western Sahara, Eritrea…

It has also investigated and condemned Turkey for committing genocide against the Armenian people. In 2006, it ethically sanctioned the economic neo-liberal model and multinational corporations for violations of international principles respecting human rights.

Among the many prestigious PPT panelists have been Nobel Prize winners: Adolfo Perez, Sean MacBride and George Wald. Many judges and associates have either come from Latin America and/or been close to the Cuban revolutionary process, as well as its allies in the ALBA alliance, among them are: Francois Houtart and Miguel D’Escoto.
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(1) http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=35722

Gianni Tognoni, Secretary General, Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT), Rome
Jude Lal Fernando, Irish Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka (IFPSL), Dublin
Nicolai Jung, International Human Rights Association (IMRV), Bremen e.V
Contact: irishpeaceforum@gmail.com
imrvbremen@gmail.com

(2) http://www.tamilnet.com/img/publish/2010/01/Dublin_Permanent_Peoples_Tribunal_Final__Report.pdf

(3) Much of my writings of late have focused on the Tamil people’s struggles for human rights and justice and the lack of natural solidarity that Cuba should be taking with them instead of the opposite: support for a most brutal Sri Lanka regime.

Here are some of my articles on that issue and connection, as well as on how the worst terrorist states in the world—the USA and Israel—have always backed the Sinhalese racist governments with arms and heavy war machinery, intelligence and surveillance, and money. Furthermore, in this world of geo-politics with odd bed partners, China, Pakistan, Russia, and Iran have also heavily aided the Sri Lanka Sinhalese chauvinists in committing gross atrocities against the Tamil people. I have also written a book on the subject published in India in 2011:
“Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka” http://www.ronridenour.com/books/tamil_nation_in_sri_lanka.htm
“Cuba-ALBA let down Sri Lanka Tamils” http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=56447
“Cuba hosted Sri Lanka Pres/War Criminal” http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=72890&cpage=1 
Cuba’s contradictory stance on Tamils” http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=56447
“Cuba outvoted at UN Human Rights Council over Sri Lanka-Tamils http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=65303
“Sri Lanka war crimes-genocide with West complicity” http://dissidentvoice.org/2012/05/sri-lanka-war-crimes-genocide-with-west-complicity/