Sri Lanka Denounces Push to Open War Inquiry

by Gardiner Harris & Dharisha Bastians, ‘The New York Times, February 25, 2014

NEW DELHI — Sri Lanka’s government on Tuesday forcefully rejected a call for an international war crimes investigation into the country’s bloody civil war, adding to tensions with the United Nations’ human rights body.

In its official response to a highly critical report released on Monday by the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, the government said Ms. Pillay’s call for an independent international investigation “reflects the preconceived, politicized and prejudicial agenda which she has relentlessly pursued with regard to Sri Lanka.”

The government dismissed accusations that its vast military presence in the northern part of the country was responsible for a surge in sexual violence against women; that the authorities had failed to return huge swaths of land to Tamil civilians, who are an ethnic minority; and that the government had undermined the independence of Sri Lanka’s judiciary. It also said the reason it had not prosecuted anyone for massacres in which security forces are known to have taken part was that proof had been difficult to obtain.

Officials also rejected claims that the government had curtailed press freedoms, pointing to the “spread of social media networks and online news outlets.” Sri Lanka has hired a Chinese company to block access to many online news outlets.

The government warned in its response that the “international network of the L.T.T.E. still remains active,” referring to a defeated rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Nearly five years have passed since the Sri Lankan government ended a 30-year civil war in which an estimated 40,000 people died in the war’s final phase, many of them civilians. A growing number of videos and photographs that appear to show summary executions have been leaked, and witnesses have described brutal rights violations.

When Ms. Pillay visited Sri Lanka in August and criticized the country’s “increasingly authoritarian direction,” the government called her biased. In the report released Monday, her office criticized the government’s failure to establish independent mechanisms to investigate credible allegations that, if proved, “would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The report listed several unresolved “emblematic cases,” including the killing in 2006 of five students in the town of Trincomalee, the deaths later that year of 17 aid workers and the capture and killing in 2009 of the 12-year-old son of the Tamil Tigers’ leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has already passed two resolutions pressing the Sri Lankan government to investigate war crimes, and it is expected next month to consider a far tougher resolution that would establish an independent international investigation.

Fred Carver of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, a global organization, said on Tuesday that the Sri Lankan government was “not interested in constructive engagement at all,” and that its growing hostility toward international human rights organizations was isolating it.

Amnesty International supported Ms. Pillay’s call for an independent investigation. “It’s utterly shameful that five years after Sri Lanka’s armed conflict ended, the victims and family members have yet to see justice,” Polly Truscott, the organization’s deputy Asia-Pacific director, said in an emailed statement.

Sri Lanka’s national languages minister, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, said on Sunday that the United States was using resolutions in the human rights body “to force regime change.”

The dispute may complicate Commonwealth Day celebrations in London early next month, which include a reception hosted by Queen Elizabeth II. President Mahinda Rajapaksa is chairman of the Commonwealth of Nations, but Britain has supported calls for an international war crimes investigation. A spokesman for Mr. Rajapaksa said campaign commitments might prevent him from attending.

Sri Lanka will hold elections in two crucial provinces on March 29, one day after the United Nations council is expected to consider its latest resolution regarding the country. The resolution may help Mr. Rajapaksa consolidate support among Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority, which overwhelmingly supported his government’s efforts to end the civil war and view the international criticism as unfair.

 

Amnesty: Suppressing Calls for Justice

Amnesty Suppressing Calls for Justice Feb 2014 asa370032014en

Index Number: ASA 37/003/2014
Date Published: 26 February

Sri Lanka’s armed conflict has been over for nearly five years and yet healing and justice are still remote goals. To break the cycle of impunity Amnesty International is calling as a priority for an independent international investigation into crimes under international law committed during the conflict and following its end. This briefing illustrates how in the past year the Sri Lankan government has continued to pressure its critics as well as those it suspects of supporting calls for an international investigation into alleged war crimes.

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA37/003/2014/en/a3fe2309-33c3-411f-af8a-468217f4008d/asa370032014en.pdf

 

Sri Lanka: Briefing exposes how activists brave retaliation before UN human rights session

Repression usually intensifies whenever Sri Lanka’s human rights situation is in focus internationally.Repression usually intensifies whenever Sri Lanka’s human rights situation is in focus internationally.© Demotix

The pattern of harassment, surveillance and attacks against those opposing the Sri Lankan authorities is deeply disturbing and shows no sign of letting up

Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia- Pacific Director
Wed, 26/02/2014

The Sri Lankan government’s targeting of critics persists at alarming levels, with more surveillance and harassment reported ahead of next month’s UN Human Rights Council (HRC) session, Amnesty International said in a new briefing today.

Suppressing calls for justice, examines the Sri Lankan authorities’ intolerance of dissent and its attacks on critics over the past six months, either directly or through proxies that range from security forces to supporters of Buddhist-nationalist groups and even immigration officials.

“The pattern of harassment, surveillance and attacks against those opposing the Sri Lankan authorities is deeply disturbing and shows no sign of letting up,” said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia- Pacific Director.

“Repression usually intensifies whenever Sri Lanka’s human rights situation is in focus internationally, something we are already seeing ahead of the UN Human Rights Council next month.”

Since the end to the protracted armed conflict with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in 2009, the government under Mahinda Rajapaksa has led a crackdown on those it perceives to be opposing them.

Opposition politicians, human rights activists, journalists, lawyers, trade unionists and many others have been harassed, threatened, violently attacked or even killed by the government, its supporters or security forces.

This trend has grown even more stark during high-profile international events putting the spotlight on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation.

The run-up to the HRC in March, when a vote is expected on a resolution calling for an international investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, has been no exception.

As the briefing shows, Amnesty International has continued to receive credible reports of activists facing surveillance and harassment

“The climate of fear is very real in Sri Lanka. Many people are too afraid to speak out. But Sri Lanka also has some very brave activists, who continue to be vocal despite facing retaliation,” said Polly Truscott.

“Some even dare to attend international meetings that could actually lead to an improved human rights situation. The UN should make every effort to ensure that they are protected.”

The visit by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay to Sri Lanka in August 2013, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo (CHOGM) three months later both saw human rights defenders being harassed and threatened.

Past UN HRC sessions in 2012 and 2013 where Sri Lanka’s human rights record was discussed saw the same disturbing pattern.

The government has reserved particular ire for those calling for an international investigation into alleged war crimes during the armed conflict, when the UN estimates that more than 40,000 people were killed during the bloody final months alone.

Activists demanding an end to enforced disappearances by security forces have received threatening phone calls and visits, and on several occasions police stood idly by as mobs attacked peaceful protests for accountability.

“Sri Lanka is doing whatever it can to avoid accountability for the alleged horrific violations by its security forces during the armed conflict,” said Polly Truscott.

“We urge UN member states to use the HRC to agree a strong resolution establishing an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes. And it is equally crucial that the world does not lose sight of the still very troubling assault on dissent in Sri Lanka today.”

The briefing documents how healing and justice are being denied as Sri Lanka’s political leadership wages an intense assault against critics and exploits religious tensions leading to attacks minorities. They have launched threats and smear campaigns against human rights defenders, minority opposition politicians, and international visitors who advocate human rights accountability in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is also increasing its use of immigration to silence dissent. Authorities have deported several foreigners participating in human rights-related meetings, and used immigrations officials to put pressure on others, including foreign media and visiting activists and politicians.

HRW: UN Rights Chief Backs International Inquiry

Government’s Refusal to Provide Justice Means UN Rights Council Should Act

by Human Rights Watch, February 26, 2014

(New York) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should adopt the recommendation of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to create an independent international inquiry into war crimes and other serious abuses committed during Sri Lanka’s armed conflict. The Human Rights Council will discuss the report during its March 2014 session.

Pillay’s report, issued on February 24, concluded the Sri Lankan government has taken no significant steps to implement the recommendations on accountability of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. She found that the Sri Lankan government’s failure to undertake a credible national process to address serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law “can no longer be explained as a function of time or technical capacity, but that it is fundamentally a question of political will.” As a result the “international community has a duty to take further steps… to achieve justice, accountability and redress.”

“The Sri Lankan government has refused to address its role in the deaths of tens of thousands at the end of the country’s brutal civil war,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The high commissioner’s report sends a strong message that only an independent international inquiry can bring justice to the victims of Sri Lanka’s wartime abuses.”

The high commissioner’s report identifies a long list of past and ongoing violations of human rights. Abuses that were regularly reported during the war, including extrajudicial killings and clampdowns on freedom of expression and association continue.

Preventive detention laws, which were used during the conflict, remain in place. While the government has created various initiatives and mechanisms on enforced disappearances, “none of these have the independence to be effective or to inspire confidence among victims and witnesses,” writes Pillay. She also expressed concern that nongovernmental organizations were still required to register and report to the Defense Ministry, and that women remained vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence in areas where there is a heavy military presence.

The report also points out that senior members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have yet to be brought to justice for war crimes. Former leaders of the LTTE, such as Vinagayamurthi Muralitharan (known as Colonel Karuna) and Kumaran Pathmanathan (known as KP), have been rewarded by the government for switching sides rather than having to answer for many credible allegations of serious abuses, including the widespread use of children in their forces, which Human Rights Watch has previously documented and sought accountability for.

“The bottom line is that Sri Lanka has repeatedly refused to undertake investigations into crimes committed by its own forces, so it will be up to members of the UN Human Rights Council to take decisive action at the coming March session,” Adams said.

Amnesty: UN Report Must be Call to Action on International War Crimes Investigation

by Amnesty International

“Navi Pillay’s findings echo our own. We are still receiving new eyewitness accounts and other allegations of gruesome violations by both government forces and the Tamil Tigers during the armed conflict.”

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, today published her review of the government’s efforts to investigate human rights violations during and after the Sri Lankan armed conflict.The international community must act on a robust new UN report calling for an international investigation into alleged human rights violations and war crimes in Sri Lanka, Amnesty International said.

“It’s utterly shameful that five years after Sri Lanka’s armed conflict ended, the victims and family members have yet to see justice. Navi Pillay’s latest report is another urgent and poignant reminder that an international investigation into alleged human rights violations and war crimes cannot wait,” said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.

“Sri Lanka has so far done all it can to throw sand in the eyes of the international community and to block attempts to bring genuine accountability for past human rights violations.

“This report has to be an eye-opener, and we urge the UN Human Rights Council in March to pass a strong resolution establishing international investigation.”

“Navi Pillay’s findings echo our own. We are still receiving new eyewitness accounts and other allegations of gruesome violations by both government forces and the Tamil Tigers during the armed conflict.”

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, today published her review of the government’s efforts to investigate human rights violations during and after the Sri Lankan armed conflict, which ended in 2009, concluding that its consistent failure to establish the truth and achieve justice is fundamentally a question of political will.

Pillay also highlighted the overwhelming sense of grief and trauma among victims and survivors that, if left unaddressed, will continue to undermine confidence in the State and reconciliation.

 http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/sri-lanka-un-report-must-be-call-action-international-war-crimes-investigation-2014-02-24 

The full report can be found here.

Amnesty: UNHRC Must Help Victims

The Human Rights Council must help Sri Lankan victims of human rights violations; the Government is protecting the perpetrators: Amnesty International’s written statement to the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council (3 – 28 March 2014)

Amnesty UNHRC asa370022014en

…The Government of Sri Lanka has not initiated a credible investigative process and has not made demonstrable progress towards prosecution of alleged perpetrators. It continues to rely on forces allegedly responsible for serious violations to police themselves. In 2013, an army court of inquiry exonerated the Sri Lankan military for civilian casualties in the last stage of military operations, concluding that any casualties that occurred were the fault of the LTTE. The report remains unpublished. A second army inquiry into alleged extrajudicial executions of individuals who surrendered to or were captured by the Sri Lankan military in the final days of conflict was initiated in March 2013, but by the end of 2013 investigators had not even interviewed witnesses other than army field commanders.1…

Amnesty International urges the HRC to ensure:
• an independent international investigation into allegations of crimes under international law committed by Sri Lankan government forces and allied armed groups as well as by the LTTE. Where sufficient admissible evidence exists, the international community must ensure that those suspected of the crimes are prosecuted in genuine proceedings in full conformity with international standards for fair trial;
• ongoing international monitoring of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including of the effectiveness of any domestic judicial or other processes; and
• strengthened UN measures to prevent intimidation or reprisals by or tolerated by the Sri Lankan government against individuals who seek to cooperate or have cooperated with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

Amnesty International reiterates its call to the Government of Sri Lanka to:
• Ensure that all allegations of crimes under international law are fully investigated and, where sufficient admissible evidence exists, those suspected of the crimes are prosecuted in genuine proceedings before independent and impartial courts that comply with international standards for fair trial;
• Ensure the protection of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, and demonstrate unequivocally that harassment, intimidation and attacks against individuals or groups of individuals exercising those rights will not be tolerated, regardless of the opinions such individuals hold and express, and regardless of the position or political affiliation of the suspected perpetrator;
• Take all measures necessary to end attacks on minority businesses and places of worship and punish attackers in accordance with the law; and
• Cooperate fully with the UN special procedures including by responding positively to their outstanding requests to visit Sri Lanka and by providing them with full access.

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA37/002/2014/en/424ad30f-1771-45d9-8ea5-5ce325dbd0dd/asa370022014en.pdf

New Inquiry on Sri Lanka Points to Possible War Crimes

by Nick Cummings-Bruce, ‘The New York Times,’ February 4, 2014

William Schabas, professor of international law at Middlesex University in London who is an authority on war crimes and was among the experts enlisted to examine the Australian inquiry’s evidence, said it was the first to focus on issues that are relevant to a criminal prosecution.

“What it demonstrates is there is clear evidence that a prosecutor can go on,” he said in an interview.

International Crimes Evidence Project ” Island of Impunity – Investigation into international crimes in the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war” — Executive Summary and Full Report

GENEVA — Senior Sri Lankan government officials and military officers may bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during an offensive near the end of the island’s civil war, according to a new investigation that backs calls for an international inquiry into those events.

The investigation, released on Tuesday by the Public Interest Advocacy Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group in Australia, in consultation with prominent international jurists, went beyond other nonpartisan inquiries into the well-documented violence that punctuated the final days of that conflict, Asia’s longest civil war.

Although the Australian group’s investigation draws partly on earlier documented reporting, the group’s inquiry took testimony from new witnesses and submitted its findings to forensic and legal analysis to provide a possible basis for prosecution.

Whether the investigation’s conclusions will seriously affect any international effort to prosecute Sri Lankan leaders remains unclear. But the investigation was released at a delicate time for the country’s government, which is facing increased international criticism over its failure to hold anyone accountable for the large number of killings and other abuses that came in the final chapter of the war in May 2009, endingover 20 years of conflict.

The United States is preparing to sponsor a third successive resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva aimed at pressuring the Sri Lankan government to address the accountability issue.

William Schabas, professor of international law at Middlesex University in London who is an authority on war crimes and was among the experts enlisted to examine the Australian inquiry’s evidence, said it was the first to focus on issues that are relevant to a criminal prosecution.

“What it demonstrates is there is clear evidence that a prosecutor can go on,” he said in an interview.

The Australian inquiry found evidence that both Tamil Tiger rebels and Sri Lankan armed forces committed a wide range of serious human rights violations, including executions, rape and torture, but concludes the military “committed the vast majority of alleged crimes” in the final six months of the war.

Moreover, the report continues, some of the alleged crimes were committed with “such flagrant and reckless disregard for the laws of war which strongly suggests there was intent to commit those crimes.”

The structure of the Sri Lankan Army was so well-established, the report adds, “that criminal responsibility for certain crimes if proven at trial could lead to convictions of senior military commanders and Sri Lankan government officials” as well as senior surviving members of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The report, titled “Island of Impunity?,” promises to stoke a long-running dispute between human rights groups and President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government in Sri Lanka, which has denied there were civilian casualties in what it termed a “humanitarian rescue operation” by the military at the end of the war and says it is conducting its own investigation into events.

The top United Nations human rights official, Navi Pillay, who visited Sri Lanka in 2013, has called for an international inquiry, and the British prime minister, David Cameron, in November said his government would back that motion if there was no sign of progress toward a credible investigation in Sri Lanka by March.

The allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity have surfaced previously. A United Nations panel of experts reported that as many as 40,000 civilians may have been killed during the military offensive that ended the war, the vast majority of them as a result of army shelling of areas crammed with civilians.

A series of documentaries by Britain’s independent television company Channel Four also presented video of the shelling of civilians and evidence of summary executions of prisoners, including the 12-year-old son of the Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The Australian-led inquiry, however, says the testimony it took from 30 witnesses, of whom half had not been interviewed before, added important detail to the knowledge of events in the closing months of the war, providing what its authors called “an evidentiary platform for an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity.”