News APP

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  gplay

Rediff.com  » News » UN seeks international judges to probe Lankan war crimes

UN seeks international judges to probe Lankan war crimes

Source: PTI
September 16, 2015 18:39 IST
Get Rediff News in your Inbox:

One shocking finding of the investigation was the extent to which sexual violence was committed against detainees, often extremely brutally, by the Sri Lankan security forces, with men as likely to be victims as women.

Harrowing testimony from 30 survivors of sexual violence who were interviewed indicates that incidents of sexual violence were not isolated acts but part of a deliberate policy to inflict torture, following similar patterns and using similar tools.

 

Dealing a blow to Sri Lanka's insistence on a purely domestic probe, the United Nations rights body on Wednesday favoured the creation of a special hybrid court including international judges to investigate the alleged war crimes by troops during the decades-long battle, especially in the final phase to eliminate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam in 2009.

The nearly 300-page report by UN Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein also indicted the LTTE for killing Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese civilians, through indiscriminate suicide bombings and mine attacks, as well as assassinations of individuals including public officials, academics and dissenting Tamil political figures.

Releasing the long-awaited report detailing the "horrific abuses" committed during Sri Lanka's civil war that ended in 2009, Zeid said, "A purely domestic court procedure will have no chance of overcoming widespread and justifiable suspicions fuelled by decades of violations, malpractice and broken promises."

The Sri Lankan government has been resisting a foreign probe and has promised a fair probe with truth and reconciliation commission on the lines of South Africa.

"The levels of mistrust in state authorities and institutions by broad segments of Sri Lankan society should not be underestimated," Zeid warned, and called for creating "a hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators."

‘Our investigation has laid bare the horrific level of violations and abuses that occurred in Sri Lanka, including indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, harrowing accounts of torture and sexual violence, recruitment of children and other grave crimes,’ the report said.

‘Numerous unlawful killings between 2002 and 2011 were allegedly committed by both parties, as well as by paramilitary groups linked to the security forces,’ said the report as the United States prepares to co-sponsor a resolution at the UNHRC favouring a domestic probe.

‘Tamil politicians, humanitarian workers, journalists and ordinary civilians were among the alleged victims of Sri Lankan security forces and associated paramilitaries,’ the report said.

‘There appear to have been discernible patterns of killings, for instance, in the vicinity of security force checkpoints and military bases, and also of extrajudicial killings of individuals while in the custody of security forces, including people who were captured or surrendered at the end of the conflict,’ it said.

One shocking finding of the investigation was the extent to which sexual violence was committed against detainees, often extremely brutally, by the Sri Lankan security forces, with men as likely to be victims as women.

Harrowing testimony from 30 survivors of sexual violence who were interviewed indicates that incidents of sexual violence were not isolated acts but part of a deliberate policy to inflict torture, following similar patterns and using similar tools.

The report found that children were often abducted by the separatists from their homes, schools, temples and checkpoints and sent to the front lines as soldiers, while a group linked to the government had also recruited children.

Enforced disappearances affected tens of thousands of Sri Lankans for decades, including throughout the 26-year armed conflict with the LTTE, the report said.

‘There are reasonable grounds to believe that enforced disappearances may have been committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population,’ it said.

‘In particular, there are reasonable grounds to believe that a large number of individuals who surrendered during the final phase of the war were disappeared, and remain unaccounted for. Many others, including people not directly linked to the conflict, disappeared, typically after abduction in 'white vans',’ the report added.

Importantly, the report reveals violations that are ‘among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.’

Despite pledges by the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena to pursue accountability domestically, the criminal justice system is not up to the huge task alone, the report said.

The report called on Sri Lanka to remove military and security forces personnel and any other officials if ‘there are reasonable grounds to believe that they were involved in human rights violations’.

The report named no suspects and said it was a ‘human rights investigation, not a criminal investigation’.  

‘This report is being presented in a new political context in Sri Lanka, which offers ground for hope,’ Zeid said.

Rights groups claim that the Sri Lankan military killed 40,000 civilians in the final months of the three decade-long brutal ethnic conflict with the LTTE.

Earlier this week, Sri Lanka's new government unveiled plans to set up a truth and reconciliation commission to examine war crimes allegations, including those against the military.

The previous government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa had resisted international pressure to investigate the issue.

The UN Human Rights Council postponed the planned publication of its report in March, after Rajapaksa lost the presidential election to party rival Maithripala Sirisena in January.

Sirisena, who was a serving government minister during the final stages of the war, promised to co-operate with the UN and to promote reconciliation. The report said there were reasonable grounds to believe that many attacks during the last phase of the war did not comply with international humanitarian law principles on the conduct of hostilities, particularly the principle of distinction.

The report documents repeated shelling by government forces of hospitals and humanitarian facilities in the densely populated 'no fire zones', which the government itself had announced but which were inside areas controlled by the LTTE.

‘Directing attacks against civilian objects and/or against civilians not taking direct part in hostilities is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime,’ the report said.

‘The presence of LTTE cadres directly participating in hostilities and operating within the predominantly civilian population, launching attacks from close proximity of these locations, and the LTTE policy of forcing civilians to remain within areas of active hostilities, may also have violated international humanitarian law,’ it said.

‘However, this would not have absolved the government of its own responsibilities under international humanitarian law. The duty to respect international humanitarian law does not depend on the conduct of the opposing party, and is not conditioned on reciprocity,’ it added.

The government placed considerable restrictions on freedom of movement of humanitarian personnel and activities, and may have ‘deliberately blocked the delivery of sufficient food aid and medical supplies in the Vanni in the Northern Province, which may amount to the use of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare,’ the report said.

Such conduct, if proven in a court of law, may constitute a war crime.

The manner in which the screening processes were carried out, to separate former LTTE combatants from civilians, failed to meet international standards and facilitated ill-treatment and abuse.

‘Almost 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons were deprived of their liberty in camps for periods far beyond what is permissible under international law. There are also reasonable grounds to believe that IDPs were treated as suspects and detained because of their Tamil ethnicity,’ it said.

The report documents years of denials and cover-ups, failure to carry out prompt investigations, stalled investigations and reprisals against the family members of victims and others who have pushed for justice.

It notes that the repeated failure of successive domestic inquiries to bring justice has led to scepticism, anger and mistrust on the part of victims, particularly since ‘many of the structures responsible for the violations and crimes remain in place’.

The report demonstrates the systemic weakness in addressing these crimes, especially when the military or security forces are involved. It also describes ‘reprisals against judicial and other professionals who try to prosecute human rights-related cases involving State officials’.

Image: A file photograph of a Sri Lankan soldier carrying a child in the war zone. Photograph: Reuters.

Get Rediff News in your Inbox:
Source: PTI© Copyright 2024 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.
 
CHINESE CHALLENGE - 2022

CHINESE CHALLENGE