Can the new Sri Lanka deal with its past?

19 April 2015 by Frances Harrison, London (UK)

After he swept to power in a surprise election result in January, Sri Lanka’s new president promised a break with the past. So far, that has meant moves like easing press restrictions and tackling corruption, rather than dealing with the worst crimes associated with the 2009 civil war. President Maithripala Sirisena promised “a strong internal mechanism to look into human rights”, but it is unclear when it will be established or what its remit will be. Critics say that for genuine accountability, it will have to tackle more than human rights abuses.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena at his swearing-in ceremony on 9 January 2015, in Colombo (Photo: Flickr/presidentgovlk)
Image caption: 
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena at his swearing-in ceremony on 9 January 2015, in Colombo (Photo: Flickr/presidentgovlk)

A 2011 UN Panel of Experts said Sri Lanka’s conduct during the civil war’s final phase was “a grave assault on the entire regime of international law”. Its report concluded that 40,000 civilians might have been killed in a matter of five months, stating: “Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by Government shelling.” The panel found that the Sri Lankan Armed Forces systematically shelled hospitals, no-fire zones and food queues as they advanced against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a group designated worldwide as terrorists for using child soldiers and suicide bombers. A later UN Internal Inquiry estimated 70,000 civilian deaths. After the guns went silent in 2009, systematic, widespread abductions, torture and rape by the security forces of suspected former rebels continued with impunity, according to a UN Security Council report published last week.

Want to read more?

We have tailor-made memberships for students, individuals, groups of professionals and large companies and organizations. A subscription entitles you to receive the International Justice Tribune every two weeks as well as become a member of the Justice Tribune Foundation, supporting independent reporting on international justice.

Subscribe now

Related articles

article
Inhabitants of the Menik Farm internally displaced person camp in Sri Lanka await a visit by the UN secretary-general in 2009 (Photo: Flickr/UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)
23 September 2015 by Frances Harrison, London (UK)

I learned exactly how a friend of mine was executed from the forensic examination the UN report did of the photographs of his corpse. His hands were tied behind his back and he was shot multiple times from behind. At least I now know he wasn’t tortured before he died, and in the warped world of Sri Lanka, that’s some comfort. I cannot imagine what it is like for his wife to relive this again.

article
A Syrian refugee walks among severely damaged buildings in downtown Homs, Syria, on June 3, 2014. (Photo: Flickr/Xinhua/Pan Chaoyue)
09 March 2017 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

International law experts, officials and NGO’s met in The Hague Thursday to help set up an new United Nations body to gather evidence of war crimes in Syria to ensure possible prosecution at a later date. 

The new body called the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Syria is “to serve as a hub for gathering evidence for all crimes in Syria”, said Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders who hosted the meeting of over 150 professionals.

article
At a shelter for Yazidis refugees who fled IS attacks in Iraq, Mahoubet says the jihadist movement killed her husband and kidnapped her sister and daughter (Photo: Flickr/Caroline Gluck/EU/ECHO)
23 March 2015 by Karina Hof

The Islamic State (IS) is perpetuating heinous human rights violations in Iraq and members of the jihadist movement may be guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, says a UN report released last week. Its author, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, recommends Iraq join the International Criminal Court and accept its jurisdiction “over the current situation”.

issue
Stephen Rapp speaking at a Coalition for the ICC event in 2013 (Photo: Flickr/CICC)
30 September 2015

IJT 186 is our first issue after the summer break and also the first in our new publishing scheme of a monthly digest of our feature articles which appeared on our site previously.

article
23 July 2014 by IJT

Sri Lankan MPs last week rejected, by a large majority, a new investigation launched by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) into crimes committed during the quarter-century-long armed conflict between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which ended in 2009.