Sri Lankan Report Doesn't Fully Address War Crimes

Displaced Sri Lankan Tamil civilians.

I’ve been waiting for months for the final report from Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (often referred to as the “LLRC”).  The commission had been appointed by President Rajapaksa in May 2010 to examine events during the last seven years of the war between the government and the Tamil Tigers (the war ended in May 2009 with the government’s victory over the Tigers).

The Sri Lankan government has used the existence of the commission to say that an international investigation into war crimes and other human rights abuses committed by both sides during the war in Sri Lanka wasn’t needed.  On Dec. 16, the Sri Lankan government released the LLRC’s final report.  I have to say that I’m disappointed with the report.

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Sri Lanka's Killing Fields

Sri Lanka

Civilians, in between Kilinochchi and Mulathiv, Sri Lanka, May 2009, during the last few months of the war. (c) Private

Last night, I watched a harrowing new documentary, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” by Channel 4, a British media company, about the final months of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009.

The 49-minute film depicts the massive human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war committed by both the Sri Lankan government forces and the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.  The film is available online at Channel 4′s website until June 21.

Please note:  some of the scenes in the film are very disturbing.  It is NOT for younger viewers.

The film includes an extended version of the “execution video” released in 2009, in which naked prisoners are shown being shot in the head.  There are scenes of dead female Tamil Tigers who appear to have been raped and murdered.

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Sri Lanka: 52 Civilians Killed

Disheartening isn’t the word for it; it’s worse than that. It had been bad enough to hear of 9 civilians being killed and 20 injured last Sunday and Monday by shelling in the war zone in northern Sri Lanka. This morning, over my coffee, I learned from the UN that 52 civilians were killed by shelling in just one day yesterday. The UN said it didn’t know who was responsible for the shelling. According to the UN tonight, the hospital in the war zone that had been bombed repeatedly over last weekend is now empty; all the staff and patients have fled. According to the Red Cross, the patients have been moved to a community center in an area that lacks clean drinking water.

Yesterday’s shelling included a cluster bomb attack. Cluster bombs scatter dozens of bomblets over a wide area, some of which usually fail to explode, posing a lasting threat to civilians. Cluster bombs have been banned by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, since they’re indiscriminate weapons (Sri Lanka, though, hasn’t signed the Convention).  Amnesty International said today that the use of cluster bombs in yesterday’s shelling was “despicable.” The Sri Lankan government has said that it wasn’t responsible for yesterday’s shelling and that it doesn’t have cluster bombs.

The world is taking greater notice of the civilians at risk in Sri Lanka’s war zone. On Feb. 3, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband issued a joint statement calling on both the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Tamil Tigers to allow civilians to leave the conflict area and to grant access for humanitarian agencies. That same day, Norway, Japan, the US and the EU issued a joint statement asking both sides to declare a temporary ceasefire to allow evacuation of the wounded and aid to the civilians remaining in the area. Today, Pope Benedict XVI publicly appealed for an end to the fighting.

The forces targeting the civilians or engaging in indiscrimate attacks should remember that they’re committing war crimes, for which they may one day be held accountable. Before that day, let’s hope that both sides heed the statements from the international community and immediately take steps to protect the civilians at risk.