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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Investigate War Crimes In Sri Lanka!

This week marks the second anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, between government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers.  The Tigers were seeking an independent state for the Tamil minority on the island.  As documented by Amnesty International and a recent U.N. panel report, there are credible reports that both sides committed gross abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, including war crimes.  Yet no one has been held accountable for these crimes.

We know that the Sri Lankan government won’t effectively investigate these abuses.

So Amnesty International has been campaigning for an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  On March 15, we took to the streets in Chicago to demand justice in Sri Lanka.  In New York City, Amnesty International activists gathered outside the Sri Lankan Mission to the U.N. on April 8 as part of “Get on the Bus – New York.”  On April 15, we demonstrated outside the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington as part of “Get on the Bus – DC.”  More recently, as shown in the photos above, Amnesty members in other parts of the U.S. have joined in calling on the U.N. to hold an international investigation on war crimes in Sri Lanka.

It would be a great help if we can get the U.S. government to publicly support our call for an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  Please write the U.S. government today, so that the victims and their families can finally receive truth and justice.

Crimes Against Humanity: ICC Prosecutor Requests Arrest Warrant For Gaddafi

10-year-old Maryam Mahmoud al-Hassouni was killed by shrapnel on 5 April 2011 from a mortar which landed in the courtyard of her home in Zawia al-Mahjoub neighbourood of Misrata while she played there. © Amnesty International

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo today requested arrest warrants for Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and the country’s spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi,  for Crimes Against Humanity.

In the world of international justice, this request comes at lightning speed: After the UN Security Council (unanimously!) referred the situation to the ICC only days after violence and armed hostilities broke out in Libya in mid-February, the request for arrest warrants comes only three months later.

In a press conference held today, Moreno-Ocampo stated that al-Gaddafi personally ordered attacks against unarmed civilians. His office collected evidence that security forces shot peaceful protesters, that heavy weaponry was used against participants in funerals, and that snipers shot at civilians. According to the ICC prosecutor, these crimes were committed in a systematic and widespread manner and are still ongoing in areas under al-Gaddafi’s control. While the ICC judges will consider the request for arrest warrants, the Office of the Prosecutor will continue to collect evidence, including on potential war crimes committed since armed conflict broke out in Libya.

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UN: Investigate Sri Lanka War Crimes

This past Monday, the U.N. finally released the report of its advisory panel on accountability in Sri Lanka.  Thanks go to everyone who sent an online letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking him to release this report.

The report found credible allegations that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war in early 2009, and that both the government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers violated international law, including committing war crimes.  The panel recommended, among other things, that the U.N. establish an international investigation into these allegations.

Sri Lanka's military held many of those who escaped the conflict in miserable conditions © Private

Today, Ban’s spokesperson explained that Ban would not initiate an international investigation into these allegations unless the Sri Lankan government consented or he was asked to do so by a U.N body such as the Security Council, the Human Rights Council or the General Assembly.

Well, the Sri Lankan government isn’t likely to consent.  They’ve rejected the panel’s report, calling it “flawed” and “biased.”  President Rajapaksa has called for mass protests against the report on May 1.

We’ll need action by U.N. member states to establish an international   investigation.  The U.S. government could play a vital role in this effort.  Please write to Secretary Hillary Clinton and ask her to support the establishment of an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.

UN: Release Sri Lanka Panel Report

Yesterday, the United Nations advisory panel on accountability in Sri Lanka turned over its report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  The panel had been established by Ban last June to advise him on how to pursue accountability for reported war crimes and other human rights abuses committed by both the government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers during Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war (which ended with a government victory in May 2009).

While the Secretary-General’s spokesperson said yesterday that the U.N. intends to make the report public, he didn’t give a timeframe for doing so.  It’s critical that the report be made public as a first step towards achieving accountability.

Amnesty International has been asking the U.N. to establish an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  This past February, I accompanied Yolanda Foster, the Amnesty researcher on Sri Lanka, and Dr. Kasipillai Manoharan, the father of one of the “Trinco 5” students killed by the security forces in 2006, as we delivered to the U.N. offices in New York over 52,000 signatures on a petition to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for such an international investigation.  Above is the trailer of a short film of our trip, which Amnesty has just released.

Please write to Ban Ki-moon and ask him to make the U.N. advisory panel’s report public.  It’s important that the U.N. hears from everyone concerned about truth and justice for the victims and their families in Sri Lanka.

March 21st KEY Date in Human Rights Council for Gaza Conflict Victims

UPDATE Friday, 3/18/11, 7:35pm: The UN appointed Committee of Independent Experts released their updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations into violations of international law committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict.  It is this assessment which is going to be reviewed and debated by members of the Human Rights Council Monday, March 21st.  (See below).

UPDATE Friday, 3/18/11, 7:25pm: Amnesty Int’l just released their updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations.

Original Post: Next Monday, March 21st, the Human Rights Council (HRC) will consider a critical report.  The report assesses the Israeli and Palestinian investigations into serious violations of international law committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict.

This report is expected to match a similar assessment submitted to the HRC last September that concluded that both the Israeli government and the Palestinian side have failed to carry out investigations that are credible, independent and in conformity with international law.They have also failed to demonstrate a commitment to prosecuting perpetrators.  AI’s assessment concurs with these findings.

Despite clear documentation last September that both Israel and Hamas, the de facto administration in Gaza, were falling short of their obligations, Amnesty was shocked and dismayed to see the Human Rights Council fail to outline a clear plan for accountability and instead opt for delay.

AI wants HRC members to know that AI members worldwide are expecting real results this time.

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Sri Lanka: Release security detainees

Apart from the issue of war crimes that I’ve written about lately, there’s another urgent human rights crisis in Sri Lanka:  thousands of people are being detained without charge or trial under the country’s repressive anti-terrorism laws.  Some have been held for 10 years or more.

Please write to the Sri Lankan government and ask that all those detained under these laws are either promptly released or else charged with recognizable crimes.  Sri Lanka’s emergency regulations and Prevention of Terrorism Act should be promptly repealed.

 

War Crimes in Sri Lanka: Time for UN to Act

Delivering the petition to the UN

Last May, Amnesty International launched a global action calling on the UN to establish an international investigation into war crimes and other abuses committed during the war in Sri Lanka.

Both the Sri Lankan government and the opposition Tamil Tigers were responsible for massive human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war during the 26-year conflict.

In response to Amnesty’s call for action, over 52,000 people signed our petition to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding an international investigation as a first step toward accountability for these crimes.

This past Tuesday, Feb. 22, I had the privilege of accompanying Yolanda Foster, the Amnesty researcher on Sri Lanka, and Dr. Kasipillai Manoharan, the father of one of the “Trinco 5” students killed by the security forces in 2006, to the UN offices in New York as we delivered the signed petitions to the UN.  We pressed the UN to act on our petition without delay and let them know we would be following up to make sure an international investigation is promptly established.

The U.S. government has not yet joined Amnesty in our call for an international investigation.  We could use their support.  Please write to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and ask that the U.S.  government encourage the establishment by the UN of an international investigation into war crimes and other abuses in Sri Lanka.  For Dr. Manoharan’s sake and that of all the other families of the victims, we cannot stop campaigning until they receive justice.

The Long Arm of the Law

Yesterday a spokesman for former US President George W. Bush announced that he was abandoning a planned visit to Switzerland because of “security concerns”.

Although President Bush’s team officially played down the possibility, it seems likely that the decision was taken in part because of fears that he might be arrested by the Swiss authorities. In 2005 former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld cancelled a visit to Munich, Germany, for the same reason.

Last Friday Amnesty International wrote to Genevoise and Swiss federal prosecutors outlining a lengthy and detailed case calling for the local authorities to investigate President Bush for authorizing the use of torture during the ‘war on terror’.

Since President Bush admitted in his memoir Decision Points that he personally ordered the water-boarding of terrorism suspects and water-boarding comfortably falls within the spectrum of acts prohibited by the Convention against Torture (and for that matter domestic US law) this frankly wasn’t a hard case to make.

Switzerland has an obligation under international law arising from the Convention against Torture to investigate these allegations. Switzerland ratified the Torture Convention in 1986 but even if it had not the prohibition of torture, and the duty to investigate suspects, is considered customary international law.

Furthermore, the Bush administration seized on the law of war as the framework within which it pursued Osama bin Laden and there is no statute of limitations on war crimes. Water-boarding, walling and learned compliance all amount to war crimes.

To borrow a turn of phrase used by General Petraeus, President’s Bush’s criminal liability for these abuses is non bio-degradable.

The reports that have emerged from Cairo this past week about the torture and abuse of pro-democracy activists by Egyptian security forces remind us of the company we keep if we allow the use of torture to go unpunished.

Ending impunity for human rights abuses is not a cause we can only pursue overseas. If our values are to have any meaning we must first put our house in order at home.  We can’t just ‘turn the page’.

It can be easy to get discouraged fighting against impunity when progress is most often measured not in years but in decades. However, this weekend we have been reminded that the law has a long arm and that even Presidents can’t ignore its reach.