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.


State Dept.: no accountability yet for Sri Lanka war crimes

As my colleague Christoph Koettl mentioned in his earlier post on this site, the State Department today issued its follow-up report on war crimes in Sri Lanka.  Why a follow-up report?  Last October, the State Department issued a report describing over 300 reported human rights abuses (including war crimes) committed by both sides during the final months of the war in Sri Lanka.  That earlier report cited incidents documented by Amnesty International, among others, and was based on traditional and innovative evidence, including satellite imagery and aerial photographs.   Congress then instructed the State Dept. to issue a second report about what the Sri Lankan government has done to investigate these abuses, and to evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts.  That second report by the State Dept. was issued today.

What’s the verdict?  No effective accountability yet by the Sri Lankan government.  The State Dept. describes how the Sri Lankan government has set up two bodies:  (1) a “Group of Eminent  Persons” to respond to the first State Dept. report, and (2) a reconciliation commission to examine the breakdown of the 2002 ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers and subsequent events.  The State Dept. concludes that the Group of Eminent Persons (which has now been subsumed into the reconciliation commission) was ineffective.

As for the reconciliation commission, the State Dept. points out in its report that the commission has just gotten started but it does mention a couple concerns, among others:

(a) The chair of the commission has a serious conflict of interest.  He used to be Sri Lanka’s Attorney General.  His department hindered the workings of an earlier commission of inquiry (as documented in AI’s “Twenty Years of Make-Believe” report).

(b) Public statements by Sri Lankan officials, such as the Defence Secretary, have been to the effect that the Sri Lankan military didn’t commit any abuses.  In this context, it may be difficult for the reconciliation commission to do an effective job of investigating abuses.

There’s more in the State Dept. report, including discussion of the UN advisory panel and of the “execution video,” which I don’t have room to discuss here (at least, if I want to keep this to a reasonable length).

Amnesty and other organizations have been calling for an independent international investigation into war crimes and other abuses committed by both sides during the war in Sri Lanka.  After reading the latest State Department report, I think our call for such an investigation is only strengthened.  The victims of the abuses and their families shouldn’t have to wait for the reconciliation commission to fail to provide justice.  We need an international investigation now!  If you haven’t already, please sign our online petition to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking the UN to set up such an investigation.  Thanks!

UN official says Sri Lankan execution video authentic, calls for war crimes investigation

We mentioned in this site last August that a shocking video had been released which appeared to show extrajudicial killings in Sri Lanka during the final months of the war between the Sri Lankan government and the opposition Tamil Tigers.  The Sri Lankan government had denounced the video as a fake.  Today, a senior UN official presented the findings of three experts commissioned by him, which concluded that the video was authentic.   The official called for an independent inquiry into war crimes and other violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed during the war in Sri Lanka.   (The Sri Lankan government later criticized the UN official for publicly presenting his findings without first allowing the Sri Lankan government to respond.)

Separately today, the spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the Secretary-General is considering appointing a commission of experts to advise him on addressing possible violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka.

Amnesty International has been calling for an international, independent investigation into reports of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including war crimes, by both sides during the closing stages of the war in Sri Lanka.  Will today’s statements at the UN mean that we may finally see such an investigation sometime soon?

Another Shocking Video from Sri Lanka

The British news company, Channel 4, has released another shocking video on Sri Lanka, this time on the terrible conditions facing Sri Lanka’s displaced Tamils in the internment camps they’re currently held in.  (For background on this story, see the Sri Lanka page on the AIUSA website.)  Like the earlier execution video released by Channel 4, Amnesty International cannot confirm whether the video and pictures reportedly shot inside the camps two weeks ago are authentic.  We could do so if the Sri Lankan government would allow aid workers and independent human rights observers full, unimpeded access to the camps and their civilian population.

It’s imperative that conditions in the camps be improved quickly, especially with the monsoon rains coming in the next few weeks.  But even more important, the civilians must be allowed to leave the camps if they wish. On that score, we may have gotten some good news today:  the Sri Lankan government announced today that civilians in the camps could be released if they had relatives willing to take them.  We’ll see whether this is implemented and how many it will apply to.  But even those civilians without such relatives are still entitled to freedom of movement.  Being caught in a war zone is not a crime; the displaced civilians should not be treated as criminals.  Unlock the camps now!