The US State Department Report holds Sri Lankan Government responsible for war crimes abuses along with Tamil Tigers

The US State Department presented its ‘unclassified’ report titled “2009 – Report to Congress on Incidents During the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka”

The report was mandated by the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act. The act directed the Secretary of State to submit a report “detailing incidents during the recent conflict in Sri Lanka that may constitute violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against humanity, and, to the extent practicable, identifying the parties responsible.”

SRI_LANKA_IDP 2This report presented to Congress on 21st October and released on 22nd October on the US State Department website, says, “Crimes against humanity are certain offences committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population with knowledge of the attack. Specific acts of crimes against humanity include murder; extermination; torture; rape; persecution; enforced disappearance; and other inhumane acts, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population with knowledge of that attack.”

The report says, “In addition to allegations of incidents that may constitute violations of International Human Rights Law and/or crimes against humanity, and in our efforts to collect as much pertinent information as possible, we received reports regarding other alleged harms against civilians, including incidents that could constitute human rights abuses. These incidents are included in the report in the interest of providing a sense of the broad range of harms civilians allegedly suffered from January to May 2009.”

The Sri Lankan government has promised to ensure accountability through domestic inquiries. In a joint statement issued in May this year, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international law and stated that “[t]he Government will take measures to address those grievances.” In the five months since the war ended, the SL government has not initiated any investigations.

“Concerned governments should use the US State Department report as a clarion call for an international investigation,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “There are no more excuses for inaction.” he has added.

Following is the executive summary of the report.

Executive Summary

This report is submitted pursuant to the Joint Explanatory Statement accompanying the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009 (P.L. 111-32), which directed the Secretary of State to submit a report ―detailing incidents during the recent conflict in Sri Lanka that may constitute violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against humanity, and, to the extent practicable, identifying the parties responsible. The alleged incidents set forth herein occurred in the context of the final months of an armed conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has been listed as a terrorist organization by the United States since 1997. While the conflict lasted intermittently for 25 years, this report focuses on incidents that occurred from January 2009, when fighting intensified, through the end of May 2009, when Sri Lankan government forces defeated the LTTE. It does not provide, nor is it intended to be, a comprehensive portrayal of the conflict.

The United States recognizes a state’s inherent right to defend itself from armed attacks, including those by non-state actors such as terrorist groups. The United States also expects states and non-state actors to comply with their international legal obligations. This report compiles alleged incidents that transpired in the final stages of the war, which may constitute violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) or crimes against humanity and related harms. The report does not reach legal conclusions as to whether the incidents described herein actually constitute violations of IHL, crimes against humanity or other violations of international law. Nor does it reach conclusions concerning whether the alleged incidents detailed herein actually occurred.

The report addresses the following categories of incidents:

  • Children in armed conflict—According to reports, on numerous occasions during the January to May 2009 reporting period the LTTE took both male and female children, some as young as 12, to join LTTE cadres.
  • Harm to civilians and civilian objects—The State Department has not received casualty estimates covering the entire reporting period; sources alleged that a significant number of deaths and injuries incurred at the time of attack were likely never recorded. Senior Sri Lankan officials made repeated public statements denying that the GSL was shelling the NFZ or targeting hospitals and was not responsible for any civilian casualties. However, sources alleged that the majority of shelling in the NFZ was from GSL forces. The GSL announced that it would observe a 48-hour ceasefire on two occasions. The stated aim of these was to allow civilians to move into areas in which they would not be subject to shelling. Incident reports suggest, however, that the GSL may have begun shelling before the end of the second 48-hour ceasefire. Reports also indicated that the LTTE forcibly prevented the escape of IDPs and used them as ―human shields.
  • Killing of captives or combatants seeking to surrender—A number of sources alleged that the GSL committed unlawful killings. Multiple reports alleged that in the final few days of fighting, senior LTTE leaders contacted international representatives in an effort to broker a surrender but were killed after they allegedly reached a surrender agreement with the GSL. Disappearances—According to reports, GSL forces or GSL-supported paramilitaries abducted and in some instances then killed Tamil civilians, particularly children and young men. Sources reported that these individuals were taken to undisclosed locations without any further information being provided to relatives. IDP checkpoints and camps were alleged to be particularly vulnerable areas, with a heavy military presence hindering the ability of international organizations to conduct protection monitoring and confidential IDP interviews.
  • Humanitarian conditions—Reports include instances of severe food shortages; malnutrition, particularly among the very young and old; as well as surgeries being performed with little or no anesthetic. The GSL pledged to provide sufficient food and medical supplies to people in IDP camps and to those trapped in the NFZ. However, most reports point to significant gaps between food, medicine, and clean water needs and the available supplies in the NFZ and IDP camps.

The full report can be accessed by clicking the link below http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/131025.pdf

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