War crimes in Sri Lanka – exposing the truth
Manny Thain, Tamil Solidarity national secretary
Little by little the truth is coming out, confirming what we already knew: that the Sri Lankan army and regime were primarily responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Tamil-speaking people in the last six months of the war.
As we mourn the first anniversary of this tragic loss of life, the International Crisis Group (ICG) – an NGO which aims to prevent and resolve deadly conflict – has published an in-depth report on those final, fateful months: War Crimes in Sri Lanka (Asia Report No.191, 17 May 2010). This is available on the ICG website: http://www.crisisgroup.org/
What this report does, in fact, is confirm all the charges levelled by Tamil Solidarity and other organisations against the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan armed forces, then under the command of Sarath Fonseka. It is not a one-sided report, as it makes a number of allegations against the LTTE. But it reserves its harshest criticism for the Sri Lankan regime.
In summary, it says: “Evidence gathered by the International Crisis Group suggests that these months saw tens of thousands of Tamil civilian men, women, children and the elderly killed, countless more wounded, and hundreds of thousands deprived of adequate food and medical care, resulting in more deaths. This evidence also provides reasonable grounds to believe that Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible.”
The report states that the government and armed forces sent civilians into so-called ‘no fire zones’ and then bombarded them with artillery, mortar and other fire. It condemns the armed forces for shelling hospitals and makeshift medical centres on numerous occasions – despite appeals from medical staff, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others. It exposes the shelling of food distribution points.
The report also says there is ‘strong evidence’ that the LTTE “fired on and killed or wounded many civilians in the conflict zone who were attempting to flee the shelling and cross into government-controlled areas”. And further: “The LTTE also forcibly recruited many civilians to fight or serve as labourers and beat some family members who protested the recruitment.”
The ICG also points the finger at other countries: “Much of the international community turned a blind eye to the violations when they were happening. Some issued statements calling for restraint but took no action as the government continually denied any wrongdoing. Many countries had declared the LTTE terrorists and welcomed their defeat. They encouraged the government’s tough response while failing to press for political reforms to address Tamil grievances or for any improvement in human rights.”
In short, it suited other governments, such as in Britain, to go along with what was happening. They all have vested strategic and economic interests in Sri Lanka and want to maintain friendly relations with the Rajapaksa clan. They all have their own version of the ‘war on terror’ to pursue.
Importantly, the ICG report goes a step further, showing how the brutality of the Sri Lankan regime is being used as a model elsewhere: “Now a number of other countries are considering ‘the Sri Lankan option’ – unrestrained military action, refusal to negotiate, disregard for humanitarian issues – as a way to deal with insurgencies and other violent groups.”
The ICG report calls for the need for an independent, international investigation into alleged war crimes – and that the Sri Lankan government cooperates fully with any such investigation. It says that any trials of LTTE leaders should be held in open court with full legal protections.
It raises the need for a full and public register of all those killed, wounded and missing from the final months of the war, along with the details of their death, the provision of death certificates and financial compensation. It calls for the government to provide the ICRC full access to all places of detention and allow all detainees full legal protection.
Of course, Tamil Solidarity supports these demands. And it is necessary to raise them and build pressure for them to be realised at every possible opportunity. We believe that the most effective way is by continuing to build a movement from below, linking the struggle of the Tamil-speaking people to that of the workers and all oppressed people in Sri Lanka. But also by linking that to the struggles of working-class people internationally.
The only time that governments and international agencies act is when they have no alternative but to do so. Without that pressure, it is too easy for them to do nothing – literally, business as usual. And what that means in the context of Sri Lanka, is wheeling and dealing with the corrupt regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa – for arms deals and strategic influence, and lucrative big-business connections.