Sri Lanka: Justice for the ACF 17

You may not have been aware of it, but this past Wednesday, Aug. 19, was the first World Humanitarian Day.  August 19 was designated by the U.N. General Assembly last December as a day each year to honor aid workers around the world, especially those who have given their lives in the line of duty.

The UN website about the World Humanitarian Day noted that in Sri Lanka, 17 staff of the French aid agency Action contre la Faim (ACF) (Action Against Hunger) were killed in August 2006.  While the Sri Lankan government has blamed the opposition Tamil Tigers for the killings, a recent report by the Sri Lankan human rights group, University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), provides evidence pointing to the security forces as the killers.  And Amnesty International’s report, “Twenty Years of Make-Believe:  Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry, details serious deficiencies of subsequent government investigations into the massacre.

It’s been more than 3 years, and still the killers of the 17 ACF staff have not been brought to justice.  One more example of the continuing impunity enjoyed by the Sri Lankan security forces.  I hope that by next year’s World Humanitarian Day, I won’t be able to make the same statement.

Establishing accountability in Sri Lanka

Two significant reports were just issued on human rights in Sri Lanka.  The first, AI’s report entitled “Twenty Years of Make-Believe:  Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry,” was released today.  The report describes how for the past 20 years, the Sri Lankan government has used ad hoc commissions of inquiry to investigate human rights violations by the security forces.  The commissions were established, for the most part, to deflect international pressure on the government to combat the ongoing impunity afforded to the security forces for human rights abuses.  The formal justice system in Sri Lanka has failed to provide redress for victims of human rights violations; thus, the violators enjoy impunity for their crimes.  The report details how the commissions of inquiry have been equally ineffective in breaking the climate of impunity.  Amnesty International is calling on the Sri Lankan government to learn from past failures and take measures to establish a justice system that provides real accountability for past abuses.  AI also calls on the international community to help Sri Lanka in this effort.

The second report was issued yesterday by a well-respected Sri Lankan human rights organization, the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna).  The report, entitled “A Marred Victory and a Defeat Pregnant with Foreboding,” describes in vivd detail the last two months of the war between the Sri Lankan military and the opposition Tamil Tigers.  The report is equally critical of the Tigers and the government forces:  the Tigers shot civilians fleeing the war zone and forcibly conscripted children to fight the advancing Sri Lankan soldiers, while the Sri Lankan government repeatedly shelled the ”no-fire zone” which was crowded with civilians.  The report’s authors remark that confirming certain critical details of the last stages of the war will await an independent investigation into the abuses committed by both sides.

If you read both reports, you’ll see why it’s vital that an independent, international investigation must be undertaken into the abuses committed by both sides during the final stages of the war.  On a longer-term basis, you’ll also see the challenges facing the Sri Lanka government if they really wish to break the cycle of abuse and impunity that has prevailed for decades in that country.  Amnesty International is ready to do our part in helping the Sri Lankan government meet those challenges; I’m sure the rest of the international community would be willing to do so as well.  Let’s hope the Sri Lankan government decides to take up this task.