Sri Lanka under Fire for War Crimes at Human Rights Council

Geo-politically important Sri Lanka is among several countries, including Syria, under scrutiny at the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (March 3-28).

High Commissioner Navi Pillay of the Human Rights Council (HRC) will introduce a resolution recommending that Sri Lanka promote reconciliation and accountability with the minority Tamil people. Pillay will ask the HRC to establish “an international inquiry mechanism to further investigate the alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and monitor any domestic accountability processes.”1

Since the United States and Britain are expected to pitch either amendments or another resolution calling for a milder investigation to determine if Sri Lanka has violated basic human rights for Tamils, Cuba is expected to back the Sinhalese-led government of Sri Lanka (GOSL).

Sri Lanka is relying heavily on China and Russia for support in convincing the majority on the 47-member HRC to reject any resolution regarding international investigations. Cuba, Iran, Indonesia and United Arab Emirates have also expressed their support to Sri Lanka.

The Cuban government has opposed other resolutions, in 2012 and 2013, criticizing GOSL for possible war crimes conducted during the last months of the three decade-long civil war, which ended with government victory over the guerrilla organization Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in May 2009.

Cuban ambassador to Sri Lanka, Indira Lopez Argüelles, told Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror that “Cuba will remain with Sri Lanka. Cuba will help in the best possible manner… We are against any country-specific resolution.”

She also promised to promote Sri Lanka “in its effort to forge ties with Latin America.”

The west, as well as many “third world” countries, has merely asked GOSL to enact its own report, Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission. Although the LLRC did not conclude that any war crimes or atrocities had been committed by government forces, Cuba has backed GOSL in rejecting any verbal “intervention”.

The Cuban government’s position is that criticisms against Sri Lanka for human rights abuse is just one more hypocritical interventionist attack by western forces, which themselves intervene in other countries often with wars, such as against Afghanistan Iraq, Libya, Vietnam…

Nevertheless the socially critical Permanent People’s Tribunal (PPT) has found Sri Lanka governments guilty of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide against the Tamil people over several decades.

The Rome-based Tribunal is an outgrowth of the original war crimes tribunal created during the war against Southeast Asia by Bertrand Russell and Jean Paul Sartre.

Its panel of 11 judges, experts in international law, and peace and human rights activists, found Sri Lanka guilty of genocide at its December 7-10, 2013 hearings in Berman, Germany. The unanimous decision was taken after hearing over 30 witnesses, including Tamil victims, and experts. It also found that the US and UK were guilty of complicity for providing armaments and intelligence to the war for Sri Lankan governments.

In January 2010, a PPT panel of other international law experts, meeting in Dublin, found Sri Lanka guilty of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. These are the same charges that a United Nations panel recommended be explored by an independent international investigation. Its “Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka” was delivered to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on March 31, 2011.

Many PPT experts and supporters are friendly with the Cuban government and critical of the US blockade against it. Despite the PPT verdict, Cuba contends that the only reason why there is criticism of Sri Lanka is due to US/UK interventionism. Cuban officials say they believe that GOSL is not guilty of terrorism but rather it was only the Tamil people-backed LTTE who were terrorists.

However, its 2012 representatives at HRC stated that the west provided at least 40% of armaments to GOSL to defeat the popular LTTE. Although the US currently indicates that it is dissatisfied with Sri Lanka’s government, it recently donated $6 million in equipment for maritime patrol, and approved a World Bank loan of $213 million. Britain licensed £5 million of military equipment and armament between 2009 and 2011.

While the US and UK maintain solid economic relations with the Sri Lankan government, it offers more economic concessions to China, which obtained an important commercial-navy port at Hambontota in exchange for its major military support. Every government wants influence in Sri Lanka due to its geographic importance. Half the seafaring traffic of goods sails by its location in the Indian Ocean, and the US is especially keen to maintain its strategic interests.

Professor Francis Boyle, a legal expert in International law and counsel to the Provisional Government of Palestinian Authority, told Tamil Net, on February 3:

Remember that U.S. Secretary of State Kerry… when he was in the U.S. Senate as Chair of its Foreign Relations Committee issued that horrendous and abominable report arguing that the U.S. must promote its strategic interests with the GOSL against China despite its massive human rights violations against the Tamils.

Kerry is more concerned about keeping the genocidal GOSL happy so that he can further pursue his ‘pivot’ against China than he is with promoting the basic human rights of the Eelam Tamils.

In addition to western complicity with Sri Lanka’s war crimes against Tamils,2 the key western Middle East ally, Israel—widely accused of committing genocide against Palestinians—has also been a major supplier of war industry equipment. The same is true of Russia and Iran, as well as India and Pakistan. They have all provided hundreds of millions of dollars in military and intelligence support, in order to defeat Tamil efforts for a sovereign homeland: Eelam.

Among civilian investigations into Sri Lanka’s atrocities against Tamils is a new study by the International Crimes Evidence Project (ICEP) based in Sydney, Australia. The conservative English daily, The Telegraph, reported on February 5 that its legal assessment has concluded that there is a legal case for war crimes charges against Sri Lanka.

“The Sri Lankan Army and the Tamil Tigers murdered civilians, including pregnant women and medical workers, during the last months of their conflict, according to the most detailed report to date by war crimes experts and former United Nations investigators… [It is] a legal assessment of reported human rights abuses and fresh allegations which could form the basis of a new UN war crimes investigation.”

“While both sides had committed atrocities, the evidence indicates ‘members of the Sri Lankan Security Forces perpetrated the vast majority of alleged crimes’… Government forces were responsible for massive ‘torture, the targeting of civilians — among them medical staff at hospitals — rape, the conscription of children…’” concluded the report, “Island of Impunity.”
The ICEP also found that Sri Lankan government police and army may have deliberately and systematically destroyed mass graves containing the remains of thousands of men, women and children after the conflict. Recent construction diggings have disclosed cadavers of Tamils believed to have been buried in mass graves.

  1. Among concrete recommendations by the High Commissioner she requires of the government to: “(a) Finalize laws dealing with incitement to hatred, witness and victim protection, the right to information and the criminalization of enforced disappearances, and revise existing laws in accordance with international standards;
    (b) Repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and lift the regulations promulgated under it that allow for arbitrary detention;
    (c) Arrest, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks on minority communities, media and human rights defenders, and ensure protection of victims;
    (d) Undertake independent and credible criminal and forensic investigations with international assistance into all alleged violations of human rights and humanitarian law, including recently discovered mass graves…” []
  2. See the PPT verdict and Channel 4 series “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields.” []

Ron Ridenour is a veteran journalist and author of nine books, the latest is Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka. Read other articles by Ron, or visit Ron's website.