Sri Lanka Again under U.N.'S Gaze ; Accusations of Slaughter at End of Civil War Come before Civil Rights Panel

By Cumming-Bruce, Nick | International Herald Tribune, March 19, 2013 | Go to article overview

Sri Lanka Again under U.N.'S Gaze ; Accusations of Slaughter at End of Civil War Come before Civil Rights Panel


Cumming-Bruce, Nick, International Herald Tribune


The U.N. Human Rights Council is preparing to vote this week on a resolution urging Sri Lanka to deliver on its promises to investigate allegations of mass civilian slaughter in the army campaign that crushed a rebel group in May 2009.

The U.N. Human Rights Council is preparing to vote this week on a resolution urging Sri Lanka to deliver on its promises to investigate allegations of mass civilian slaughter in the army campaign that crushed a rebel group in May 2009 and expressing growing concern over reports of continued atrocities.

The resolution, sponsored by the United States, calls on Sri Lanka to investigate possible violations of international human rights laws -- polite diplomatic shorthand for growing evidence that soldiers killed tens of thousands of civilians in the campaign that crushed the rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It also cites reports of abuse that has continued since, including extrajudicial killings, torture, forced disappearances, intimidation and violent reprisals against journalists and human rights activists.

Without some accountability for the civilian deaths, the United States and its supporters argue, there will be no lasting reconciliation to allow Sri Lanka to turn the corner on a civil war that dragged on for 26 years as the Tamil Tigers fought to win autonomy for the mainly Tamil northern and eastern parts of the island from the country's Sinhalese majority.

Sri Lanka's leaders denounce the resolution as unwarranted and dangerous foreign meddling.

The dispute is another chapter in the opposing narratives on how the government ended the war and is now handling the peace.

For four years, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said the army mounted a humanitarian rescue operation of people trapped in areas controlled by the Tigers in 2009, strictly adhering to a directive from the president of "zero civilian casualties." Since the war's end, Sri Lanka claims to have made huge strides in resettling over 200,000 people displaced by fighting, clearing large areas of land mines, and pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into rebuilding the social and economic infrastructure of the north and east.

Moreover, Sri Lanka has already embarked on restoring harmony, the government says, pointing to a reconciliation commission set up in 2010 and a national plan of action and national humanitarian plan adopted later to carry out its recommendations.

"Sri Lanka needs adequate time and space to resolve such wide- ranging and deep-rooted issues," Mahinda Samarasinghe, the president's special envoy on human rights, told the council at the start of its current session.

That version of events has faced growing skepticism since March 2011, when a U.N. panel of experts concluded that 40,000 civilians were killed in the closing weeks of the war. The panel said that there was credible evidence that the Tigers had committed war crimes, using civilians as a buffer, but that most of the civilians had died in sustained army shelling of areas it had designated as no- fire zones.

A similar U.S.-backed resolution last year was approved by 24 to 15 with 8 abstentions. …

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