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SPEAK - Overview
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Overview

The Sri Lanka dossier is about rendering the Sri Lankan Government and Military Officials accountable for war crimes against the civilians during the civil war.

With the eventual end of the 26 year long Sri Lankan civil war and the defeat of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) by the Sri Lankan military in May 2009, hundreds of thousands of victims, Tamil and Sinhalese, have been left displaced, physically wounded, and psychologically scarred from some of the gravest human rights violations sufferable to mankind.

During a 30 year civil war in Sri Lanka, both Sri Lankan security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) constantly violated international law.  Although crimes were committed throughout the civil war, the extent of these violations greatly increased from around January 2009 up until May 2009 when the government finally declared victory.

There is much evidence to show that during the final months of the war, tens of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians were killed and wounded, and hundreds of thousands left without food and medical assistance.There is also strong evidence which is adequate enough to justify an independent international investigation of the following allegations:

  • The intentional shelling of civilians;
  • The intentional shelling of hospitals;
  • The intentional shelling of humanitarian operations.

It is important to understand that, with reference to these allegations, both the government and the security forces willingly carried out these attacks in the full knowledge of the locations and functions of the areas. The result has been the death and injury of many civilians and humanitarian workers. The Government has declined to comment on the above allegations along with the fact that they obstructed both medical and food aid.

Evidence also exists that the LTTE engaged in:

  • The intentional shootings of civilians;
  • The intentional infliction of suffering on civilians;

Crisis Group has, since august 2009, collected substantial evidence in its case against the involvement of the military and political leaders on both sides. The evidence comes from many sources including eye-witnesses, photographs and documents from credible sources. There is also suspicion regarding the recruitment of children by the LTTE and the executing of civilians who desired to surrender.

The LTTE seemed to be encouraged by a lack of active concern by the international community and the fact that a few other countries view their way of dealing with insurgents as a viable option. Although the LTTE were recognized as terrorists and their defeat celebrated, no political reforms were created to address Tamil grievances or improve human rights. The result has been an undermining of the United Nations and a strengthening of the bitterness between Sri Lankan Tamils and those from elesewhere.

THE WAR AND ITS AFTERMATH – The defeat of the Tamil Tigers

Due to numerous and better armed governmental forces, an over-whelming number of civilians and a lack of supplies, the LTTE were effectively defeated by January 2009. The LTTE leader,Vellupillai Prabhakaran, had taken some fatal decisions (assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991; murder of Sri Lankan foreign minister) thus losing them international legitimacy, and they were banned as a terrorist organisation by the European Union in May 2006. Once his deputy, Colonel Karuna, split from the LTTE in 2004 to collaborate with the government, Colombo's position improved.

With the boycott of the presidential elections by the Tamils in 2005, there came a victory for Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was set upon a resumption of the war and a defeat of the Tigers. In January 2008 the government declared the ceasefire terminated. However, due to a better armed and trained security force (China and Pakistan being responsible for this), the LTTE did not make a successful return to guerrilla warfare.

Thanks to Pakistan the security forces had air superiority and the navy, with aid from India, prevented the re-stockage of the LTTE's amoury after tracking and destroying a series of their shipments. Security was stepped up by the government who were calling for an international ban on the LTTE.

However, the situation was not positive and any criticism of the government led to sordid outcomes. Along with the disappearance of journalists, attacks on NGO's and the threatened politicians, came the censorship of the media and a reticence from the international community to involve itself actively. With the stage thus set and the Sinhalese population keen for victory, the government forged ahead. In January 2009, the LTTE's headquarter's in Kilinochchi was captured, and the size of the conflict zone reduced.

From January the conflict took on a new face: the government concentrated the population into smaller No-Fire Zones (NFZs), refusing to allow in adequate food and medical supplies, whilst the LTTE shot civilians trying to leave their areas. The government continually forced the LTTE back into the NFZs and finally announced Prabhakaran’s death, declaring the war over on the 18 May. Crisis group firmly believe that throughout this period heavy causalities occurred amongst the civilian population and that senior government and military officials were fully aware of this. This information was fully documented by UN officials and aid workers within the areas concerned. Many bodies were disposed of in communal burial pits or bunkers and the figures are believed to be in the tens of thousands during the last 5 months of conflict.

THE AFTERMATH

Located within the Vavuniya area were many camps that Tamils crossing over into government held areas were forced into. Over 280,000 Tamil civilians were unlawfully put into these camps. Conditions were appalling and civilians were often subjected to abuse. No consular intervention was accorded. Media visits were closely screened and UN and humanitarian access limited. The ICRC was completely banned up to July 2010.

In spite of all this, little international intervention for the support of war crimes was evident, and many, including the Security council referred to this as a domestic matter. However, after a video broadcast on BBC channel Four was proven to be authentic, an investigation into war crimes and serious violations of human rights was accorded. The execution of the heads of the LTTE political-wing leader, B. Nadesan, and LTTE peace secretariat, S. Puleedevan, will also be investigated. President Rajapaksa won a further 6 years in term in January 2010.

The US State Department of 2009 clearly indicates that it does not reach conclusions about the alleged incidents, however, the report presents a damning indictment of both sides and makes the case for a serious, well-financed and independent investigation all the more compelling.

SPEAK advises its clients i.e. civilians on the ways to render the perpetrators accountable for war crimes and to initiate such legal proceedings as may be necessary in order to enforce the said accountability.