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(Washington, DC) The Sri Lankan government's inquiry into the country's civil war is fundamentally flawed and provides no accountability for atrocities, according to a new Amnesty International report released today.
When will they get justice? exposes the shortcomings of the inquiry in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). These include its failure to properly pursue allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity leveled against both government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
"The Sri Lankan government has, for almost two years, used the LLRC as its trump card in lobbying against an independent international investigation," said Amnesty International's Asia Pacific Director, Sam Zarifi. "Officials described it as a credible accountability mechanism, able to deliver justice and promote reconciliation. In reality it's flawed at every level: in mandate, composition and practice."
The LLRC was established by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in May 2010, after he made a joint commitment to an accountability process in Sri Lanka alongside United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The commission's mandate falls far short of international standards for such inquiries.
Amnesty International's analysis of the LLRC's publicly available transcripts found it failed to appropriately investigate credible allegations of systematic violations by both sides to the conflict, including illegal killings and enforced disappearances, widespread shelling of civilian targets such as hospitals, and use of civilians as shields. Commissioners include former Sri Lankan government officials who have publicly defended the Sri Lankan government against allegations of war crimes.
During the LLRC's first field session, the panel's Chairman made no mention of human rights abuses, telling witnesses to "forget the past." Instead, he asked them to tell the Commission about any problems accessing education, medical care and housing.
"Analysis of LLRC sessions exposes a catalogue of missed opportunities, negligence and political bias," said Zarifi. "The LLRC's panel of Commissioners ignored crucial questions about the role of government forces in war crimes and crimes against humanity."
The LLRC published an interim report in September 2010, which did not contain any recommendations aimed at achieving accountability for past human rights abuses. It will submit its final report in November 2011. For more than two decades, numerous national commissions of inquiry have failed to effectively deliver justice to victims of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.
"The LLRC is the latest in a long line of failed domestic inquiries," said Zarifi. "Impunity has been the rule rather than the exception, now exacerbated by a post-conflict triumphalism that rejects all responsibility for abuses carried out by government forces."
A U.N. Panel of Experts' report on Sri Lanka submitted to Ban Ki-moon on April 12, 2011 found credible allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both government forces and the LTTE, and recommended establishing an "independent international mechanism" to investigate allegations.
Amnesty International called on the U.N. Security Council and Human Rights Council to support this call in order to pursue justice for victims and their families.
"The international community must not be deceived into viewing the LLRC as a credible replacement for an international inquiry – this would allow war crimes and crimes against humanity to go unchallenged," said Zarifi. "Only an international, independent investigation can deliver justice to the thousands of victims of Sri Lanka's brutal conflict. Only then will the voices of victims really be heard. And only then can the process of post-conflict reconciliation begin to move forward."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
For a copy of the new report, When will they get justice? , or more information, please contact the AIUSA media office or visit www.amnestyusa.org.