UN Human Rights Council

UN Human Rights Council
Wikisource has original text related to this article:UNHRC Resolution S-11/1
Wikisource has original text related to this article:UNHRC Resolution 19/2
Wikisource has original text related to this article:UNHRC Resolution 22/1
Wikisource has original text related to this article:UNHRC Resolution 25/1

Party-sponsored messages of support for Rajapakse against the UN seen in Galle, 2014

At the 11th special session of the United Nations, Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in May 2009 seventeen countries attempted to get the UNHRC to investigate war crimes in Sri Lanka. They put forward a resolution that deplored abuses by both the Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tigers, urged the government to co-operate fully with humanitarian organisations and to provide protection to civilians and displaced persons, and made an appeal to the Sri Lankan government to respect media freedom and investigate attacks against journalists and human rights defenders.[48] This was thwarted after the Sri Lankan government received support from China, Russia, India and developing countries.[49] The UNHRC instead passed resolution S-11/1 on 27 May 2009 which commended the Sri Lankan government’s actions, condemned the Tamil Tigers and ignored allegations of violations of human rights and humanitarian law by government forces.[50] This resolution was passed by 29 votes to 12 votes with 6 abstentions.[51] The UN expert panel report published in April 2011 has based on its findings, recommended that the Human Rights Council reconsider resolution A/HRC/S-11/L.1/Rev.2.[6][7][8]

At the 19th regular session in March 2012, the UNHRC adopted resolution 19/2 on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka by a vote of 24 in favour, 15 against and 8 abstentions.[52] The resolution welcomed the constructive recommendations contained in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a commission of inquiry appointed by the Sri Lankan government to look back at the civil war, and noted with concern that the report did not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international law. It called upon the government of Sri Lanka to implement constructive recommendations made in the LLRC report and to take all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans. It requested the government to present an action plan detailing the steps that it has taken and will take to implement the recommendations made in the commission’s report, and also to address alleged violations of international law. The resolution also encouraged the (OHCHR) to provide advice and technical assistance on implementing the above-mentioned steps, and requested the OHCHR to present a report on the provision of such assistance to the Human Rights Council at its 22nd session in March 2013.[53] Two last-minute changes to the resolution, pressed by India, made it “unobtrusive” in nature and “non-judgemental” in approach.[54] These amendments gave the Government of Sri Lanka, a veto over any future recommendations by the OHCHR.[55] There was no reference to alleged war crimes or an international investigation, as called for by human rights groups.[56]

The failure of the Sri Lankan government to comply with resolution 19/2 led to resolution 22/1 being passed in March 2013 at the 22nd regular session of the UNHRC.[57][58] This resolution called on the Sri Lankan government to carry out an independent and credible investigation into alleged violations.[59] However, the resolution failed to establish the independent international investigation that human rights groups had called for.[60]

The Sri Lankan government ignored the resolution and as a consequence, in March 2014 the 25th session of the UNHRC passed resolution 25/1 authorising an international investigation into alleged war crimes during the 2002-09 period.[61][62][63]

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights[edit]

On 25 October 2009, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an independent, international investigation of possible war crimes committed during the last few months of the war in Sri Lanka.[64]

UN Secretary – General’s advisory panel[edit]

Main article: Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka

Wikisource has original text related to this article: Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka

In June 2010 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed a three-member panel of experts to advise him on whether war crimes were committed in the final stages of the civil war.[65] The panel consisted of Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia – chair), Steven Ratner (USA) and Yasmin Sooka (South Africa).[66] The panel looked into “accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law” and whether the commitment on “human rights accountability” given by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Ban Ki-moon has been implemented. The panel examined “the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience with regard to accountability processes, taking into account the nature and scope of any alleged violations in Sri Lanka”.

The Sri Lankan government reacted angrily to the panel’s appointment, calling it “an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation”.[67] It stated that the panel would not be allowed to enter Sri Lanka, a move criticised by Darusman.[68] The panel’s appointment was welcomed by the United States and EU but criticised by Russia and China.[69][70][71] The panel met for the first time on 19 July 2010.

On 12 April 2011 the panel handed over its report, the Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, to the Secretary-General who passed on a copy to the Sri Lankan government.[72] The Sri Lankan government immediately rejected the report as “fundamentally flawed” and “patently biased”.[73][74] The report was not initially made public to allow the Sri Lankan government time to make a formal reply.[75] On 16 April 2011, the report was published in The Island, an independently owned nationalist Sri Lankan newspaper.[76][77] It had been suggested that the Sri Lankan government leaked the report so that it can issue a full rebuttal before of the report is officially made public by the UN.[11] The Sri Lankan government did not make a formal reply and on 25 April 2011, the UN published the full report.[78][79]

The evidence obtained by the panel revealed: “a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to this day by the Government of Sri Lanka”.[6][7][8] The panel found “credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”.[6][7][8] The panel concluded that the “conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace”.

The panel found “credible allegations” that the Sri Lankan military/government killed civilians through widespread shelling; shelled hospitals and humanitarian objects; denied humanitarian assistance; violated the human rights of civilians and Tamil Tiger combatants, and it violated the human rights of those outside the conflict zone such as the media.[6][7][8] The panel found “credible allegations” that the Tamil Tigers used civilians as a human buffer; killed civilians attempting to escape Tamil Tiger control; used military equipment in the proximity of civilians; forcibly recruited children; used forced labour, and killed civilians using suicide attacks.[6][7][8]

Specific findings of the panel:[6][7][8]

In regard to crimes by the Sri Lankan government:

  • The Sri Lankan military used large-scale and widespread shelling causing large numbers of civilian deaths. This constituted persecution of the population of the Vanni.
  • The Sri Lankan government tried to intimidate and silence the media and other critics of the war using a variety of threats and actions, including the use of white vans to abduct and to make people disappear.
  • The Sri Lankan military shelled on a large scale the three Safe Zones where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate. It did this even after saying it would cease using heavy weapons.
  • The Sri Lankan military shelled the UN hub, food distribution lines and Red Cross ships coming to rescue the wounded and their relatives. It did this despite having intelligence as well as notifications by the UN, Red Cross and others.
  • Most of the civilian casualties were caused by Sri Lankan military shelling.
  • The Sri Lankan military systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines. All hospitals in the Vanni were hit by mortars and artillery, sometimes repeatedly, despite the Sri Lankan military knowing their locations.
  • The Sri Lankan government systematically deprived civilians in the conflict zone of humanitarian aid, in the form of food and medical supplies, adding to their suffering. The government deliberately underestimated the number of civilians in order to deprive them of humanitarian aid.
  • Tens of thousands of civilians were killed between January and May 2009. Many died anonymously in the final days.
  • The Sri Lankan government subjected the civilians who managed to escape the conflict zone to further deprivation and suffering.
  • Screening for Tamil Tigers took place without any transparency or external scrutiny. Some of those separated by the screening were summarily executed whilst women were raped. Others simply disappeared.
  • All IDPs were detained in closed overcrowded camps where they were deprived of their basic rights. The conditions in the camps resulted in many unnecessary deaths.
  • There were interrogations and torture in the camps. Suspected Tamil Tigers were taken to other facilities where they faced further abuse.

In regard to the crimes of the Tamil Tigers:

  • The Tamil Tigers kept hostage 330,000 civilians who were fleeing the shelling and trapped in an ever-decreasing area.
  • The Tamil Tigers refused to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone and kept them as hostages. The civilians were sometimes used as human shields.
  • The Tamil Tigers forcibly recruited members during the whole of the civil war but this intensified during the final stages of the war. Some of the recruits were young as 14.
  • The Tamil Tigers forced civilians to dig trenches, risking making them look like combatants.
  • The Tamil Tigers kept on fighting even when it became clear they had lost in order to save the lives of their leaders. This futile prolonging of the conflict resulted in many civilians dying unnecessarily.
  • The Tamil Tigers shot at point-blank any civilian trying to leave the conflict zone.
  • The Tamil Tigers fired artillery from near civilians. They also stored military equipment near civilians and civilian structures such as hospitals.
  • The Tamil Tigers carried out suicide attacks against civilians outside the conflict zone even during the final stages of the civil war.

The report states that the “credible allegations” demand a serious investigation and the prosecution of those responsible.[6][7][8] If the allegations are proved senior commanders, military and political, on both sides are liable for prosecution under international criminal law.[6][7][8] The panel noted the Sri Lankan government’s attempt at accountability consisted solely of investigating the actions of the previous government and the Tamil Tigers, and not of the present government’s actions during the final stages of the war. The panel concluded this is not in accordance with international standards and fell “dramatically short of international expectations”.[6][7][8] The panel found the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) established by the Sri Lankan government to be “deeply flawed” and not up to international standards of independence and impartiality due to the “deep-seated conflicts of interests” of some of its members.[6][7][8] The mandate of the LLRC, its work and methodology meant that it was incapable of investigating the serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law or of examining the causes of the civil war. The panel concluded that the LLRC could not satisfy the commitment on accountability given by President Rajapaksa and Ban Ki-moon.[6][7][8]

The panel found that the Sri Lankan justice system was incapable of providing accountability.[6][7][8] The independence of the Attorney General had been eroded and the continuation of Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act precluded the judiciary from holding the government accountable on human rights issues. Military courts and other domestic institutions were also incapable of providing accountability. The panel found that the government’s triumphalism and the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora‘s inability to acknowledge the Tamil Tigers’ role in the humanitarian disaster also hindered accountability.[6][7][8]

The panel criticised the UN for not protecting civilians.[6][7][8] Its reluctance to release casualty figures undermined the call to protect civilians.

The panel a number of recommendations including that there be an independent international inquiry into the alleged violations of international law and that the Sri Lankan government carry out genuine investigations of the alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by both sides.[6][7][8]

US Congress report[edit]

In October 2009 the US State Department submitted a detailed report to Congress‘ Committees on Appropriations on incidents that happened during the final months of the conflict in Sri Lanka.[80] The report detailed allegations that the majority of shelling into the Safe Zone was from Sri Lankan government forces; the government forces carried out shelling during a 48-hour “ceasefire”; the government forces unlawfully killed captives and combatants seeking to surrender, including senior Tamil Tigers; the government forces and paramilitary groups abducted and then killed Tamil civilians, particularly children and young men; there was an acute shortage of food, medicine and clean water despite government assurances that it would supply sufficient amounts; the Tamil Tigers forcibly prevented the escape of IDPs and used them as human shields; and that the Tamil Tigers forcibly recruited children. The report surmised that the allegations in the report “may constitute violations of international humanitarian law and/or crimes against humanity, and…human rights abuses”.

The Sri Lankan government rejected the report but Stephen Rapp, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, subsequently called on Sri Lanka to investigate the allegations stating that sources used in the report “were credible

Read the full article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_crimes_during_the_final_stages_of_the_Sri_Lankan_Civil_Warle and reliable and those allegations had been corroborated”.[81]

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Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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