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Sri Lanka; United Nations: Panel Finds Reports of War Crimes Credible

(Apr. 29, 2011) On April 25, 2011, the United Nations released the report that a panel of experts had completed about a month earlier, concerning accountability in the final stages of the 1983-2009 civil conflict in Sri Lanka. The panel called for further investigation and found credible allegations that both sides in the conflict, the government and the rebel Tamil Tigers (the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE), committed a range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The government forces have been accused of systematically shelling hospitals and places of refuge for internally displaced persons, despite knowing they were putting civilians at risk. They are also reported to have mistreated LTTE members or suspects, including executing some, causing some to disappear, and subjecting others to sexual violence. On the other side, there is evidence that the LTTE used civilians as “human buffers,” recruited soldiers by force, and prevented people from leaving the areas LTTE controlled. (Report of the Secretary General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka (Mar. 31, 2011); Press Release, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Human Rights Chief Welcomes Sri Lanka Report, Urges Further Investigation into Conduct of Final Stages of the War (Apr. 26, 2011); Panel of Experts Finds Credible Reports of War Crimes During Sri Lanka Conflict – UN, UN NEWS CENTRE (Apr. 25, 2011).)

Commenting on the reason the report was made public, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon stressed the desire for transparency and stated, “[t]he Secretary-General sincerely hopes that this advisory report will make a contribution to full accountability and justice so that the Sri Lankan Government and people will be able to proceed towards national reconciliation and peace.” The panel, which began its work in September 2010, consisted of Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia (chair), Yasmin Sooka of South Africa, and Steven Ratner of the United States. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR), stated:

The way this conflict was conducted, under the guise of fighting terrorism, challenged the very foundations of the rules of war and cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians. … I hope the disturbing new information contained in this report will shock the conscience of the international community into finally taking serious action. As the report itself says, addressing violations of international humanitarian or human rights law is not a matter of choice or policy; it is a duty under domestic and international law. (Press Release, supra.)

The long conflict in Sri Lanka killed thousands and resulted in a large number of people being displaced from their home communities, particularly in the northern part of the country that had been the Tamil Tigers' base before their defeat. The panel recommended that as a first step Sri Lanka should begin a process of “effective accountability” for the crimes committed. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)