Sri Lankan Report Doesn't Fully Address War Crimes

December 19, 2011

Displaced Sri Lankan Tamil civilians.

I’ve been waiting for months for the final report from Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (often referred to as the “LLRC”).  The commission had been appointed by President Rajapaksa in May 2010 to examine events during the last seven years of the war between the government and the Tamil Tigers (the war ended in May 2009 with the government’s victory over the Tigers).

The Sri Lankan government has used the existence of the commission to say that an international investigation into war crimes and other human rights abuses committed by both sides during the war in Sri Lanka wasn’t needed.  On Dec. 16, the Sri Lankan government released the LLRC’s final report.  I have to say that I’m disappointed with the report.

Amnesty International has criticized the LLRC for deficiencies in its mandate and composition, saying it lacked the necessary independence from the Sri Lankan government to fully address accountability for war crimes.  Amnesty also documented in a recent report  the deficiencies of how the LLRC operated in practice.  Sorry to say, but the LLRC’s final report bears out our earlier criticisms.

With respect to reported war crimes, the report uncritically accepts the Sri Lankan military’s version of events.  The commission does acknowledge that “considerable civilian casualties” did occur during the final phase of the conflict, but attributes responsibility for them (aside from a few incidents), directly or indirectly, to the Tigers.  Blame is laid on the Tigers with the military being largely exonerated.

The commission pointed out in the report its inability to determine the facts in some instances, including determining the number of civilian casualties and which side was responsible for shelling hospitals during the final months of the war.

The report does cover other areas besides reported war crimes; some of its recommendations could be valuable if implemented.  For example, the commission recommends that there be prosecution of the killers of Ragihar Manoharan and his four fellow students; they were killed by the security forces in Jan. 2006 but no one has been punished for this crime.  Ragihar was one of those cases for whom Amnesty members wrote as part of our 2011 “Write for Rights” event.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both said that the deficiencies in the LLRC’s report mean that an international investigation into war crimes and other human rights abuses is still needed in Sri Lanka.  The international community needs to take action and promptly establish such an investigation.   If the U.S. government would support us in our campaign for an international investigation, it would greatly help.

Please write the U.S. government today and add your voice to our campaign for an international investigation.  The victims of war crimes and their families in Sri Lanka have been denied truth and justice for too long.