International tribunal needed on Sri Lanka

May 14, 2009

While the fighting in Sri Lanka’s war zone reportedly intensified today, we saw a couple of firsts in terms of public statements on the crisis:  for the first time, the U.N. Security Council formally met and called on both of the warring parties to allow civilians to leave the conflict area.  President Obama also spoke out today on the conflict, for the first time since becoming President.  Both statements were very welcome; indeed, Amnesty International just today had called on both the Obama Administration and the Security Council to act to save the civilians trapped in the war zone.

The Sri Lankan government is pursuing its military offensive against the opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who have been seeking an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island.  The Sri Lankan military has now confined the LTTE to a small pocket of land on the northeast coast, about one square mile in all.  Trapped with the LTTE are an estimated 50,000 civilians who are being used by the LTTE as human shields and prevented from leaving the area.  Since January, AI estimates that more than 7,000 civilians have been killed and13,000 injured due to the fighting.

But while both of today’s statements are welcome, we need more pressure on both the government and the LTTE.  As AI said today, the Security Council must establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate violations of the laws of war committed by both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.  Officials on both sides need to understand that they’ll be held personally accountable for the war crimes their forces have been committing.  That’s our best hope to save the civilians still trapped in the war zone.  The Security Council must act immediately.  Thousands of innocent lives are at stake.