U.S. State Department Releases Sri Lanka War Crimes Report

October 22, 2009

The U.S. Department of State‘s Office of War Crimes Issues released its investigation into the final stage of the conflict in Sri Lanka today. Requested by Congress, the report (pdf) covers the period between January and May 2009 and consists of an overview of incidents that happened during the final stage of the conflict. It is based on a wide range of sources, including Amnesty International’s own reporting, and uses both traditional, and innovative evidence such as satellite imagery and aerial photographs.

While the report “does not reach any legal or factual conclusions”, it provides a disturbing overview of what happened in the so-called “No-Fire Zone”, looking at both the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE):

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 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.(…)

Disappearances—According to reports, GSL forces or GSL-supported paramilitaries abducted and in some instances then killed Tamil civilians, particularly children and young men. (…)

Humanitarian conditions—Reports include instances of severe food shortages;(…)

Additionally, the report raises the issue of the Sri Lankans that are still locked up in de-facto detention camps:

With the conflict now over, more than 280,000 Sri Lankans who fled their homes in the conflict zone during or in the aftermath of the conflict are internally displaced persons (IDPs). The vast majority are still in IDP camps and are denied the freedom to leave those camps (…) The GSL has not allowed international organizations or journalists to have unrestricted access to the IDP camps, which has made it difficult to have an accurate picture of events and conditions. Some IDPs have reported that they have been unable to confirm the whereabouts of injured persons who were evacuated from the battleground and taken into custody by GSL forces.

We are continuing to campaign both on the accountability issue and the IDP crisis.