War crimes ‘likely’ committed by both sides in Sri Lanka war: UN

ECONOMYNEXT – A United Nations report published Wednesday said war crimes and crimes against humanity were “most likely committed by both sides” in Sri Lanka’s ethnic war between government forces and Tamil Tiger separatists.

The report recommends the establishment of a hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, as an essential step towards justice, a UN statement said.

“Our investigation has laid bare the horrific level of violations and abuses that occurred in Sri Lanka, including indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, harrowing accounts of torture and sexual violence, recruitment of children and other grave crimes,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.

“Importantly, the report reveals violations that are among the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”

Zeid said that the report is being presented in a “new political context in Sri Lanka, which offers grounds for hope.”

A UN statement said the report found there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that many attacks during the last phase of the war in May 2009 did not comply with international humanitarian law principles on the conduct of hostilities, particularly the principle of distinction.

The report documents repeated shelling by Government forces of hospitals and humanitarian facilities in the densely populated ‘No Fire Zones,’ which the government itself had announced but which were inside areas controlled by the LTTE.

“Directing attacks against civilian objects and/or against civilians not taking direct part in hostilities is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime,” the UN said.

“The presence of LTTE cadres directly participating in hostilities and operating within the predominantly civilian population, launching attacks from close proximity of these locations, and the LTTE policy of forcing civilians to remain within areas of active hostilities, may also have violated international humanitarian law.”

However, the UN said, this would not have absolved the government of its own responsibilities under international humanitarian law.





The UN said duty to respect international humanitarian law does not depend on the conduct of the opposing party, and is not conditioned on reciprocity.

The report recommends a range of measures to develop a comprehensive transitional justice policy to address the human rights violations of the past 30 years and prevent their recurrence.

UN High Commissioner Zeid said he urged all communities and sections of society, including the diaspora, to view the report as “an opportunity to change discourse from one of absolute denial to one of acknowledgment and constructive engagement to bring about change.”

“After so many years of unbridled human rights violations and institutionalized impunity, the wounds of victims on both sides have festered and deepened,” Zeid said. “Unless fundamentally addressed, their continued suffering will further polarize and become an obstacle to reconciliation, and – worse – may sow the seeds for further conflict.”

Zeid said the levels of mistrust in state authorities and institutions by “broad segments” of Sri Lankan society should not be underestimated.

 “It is for this reason that the establishment of a hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, is so essential,” he said.

“A purely domestic court procedure will have no chance of overcoming widespread and justifiable suspicions fuelled by decades of violations, malpractice and broken promises.”

Sri Lanka’s new government has said it will launch its own credible, domestic probe into allegations of human rights abuses by security forces but would oppose an international inquiry.

Zeid said the island’s domestic criminal justice system also needs to be strengthened and reformed, so it can win the confidence of the public.

“But that is a process which will take several years to achieve and needs to be undertaken in parallel to the establishment of a special hybrid court, not in place of it. Indeed such a court may help stimulate the reforms needed to set Sri Lanka on a new path to justice, building public confidence along the way.” (Colombo/September 16 2015)


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