UN investigation brings new hope for justice in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan government must end a nationwide crackdown on dissent and cooperate with UN investigators, Amnesty International said today after the UN Human Rights Council established an inquiry into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country.

“The UN inquiry brings new hope for the thousands of victims of abuses in Sri Lanka,” said David Griffiths, Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

“The Sri Lankan government has twice ignored calls by the UN Human Rights Council to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations during the country’s horrific civil conflict. Now they have a fresh opportunity to restore some international credibility by cooperating with the investigation.”

On Thursday morning, the UN Human Rights Council voted to task the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to investigate allegations of abuses and crimes committed by all sides of the brutal conflict that saw tens of thousands killed and wounded.

The resolution and the investigation are important steps towards breaking the cycle of impunity that fuels ongoing and serious human rights violations in Sri Lanka today.

“It is important that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is provided with the necessary material and political support to make its investigation as robust and far reaching as possible, with the aim of ensuring that the truth is finally established so that impunity is tackled,” said David Griffiths.

This is the third resolution by the UN Human Rights Council aimed at ensuring accountability for violations committed by both sides during Sri Lanka’s conflict.

Despite two prior resolutions by the Council in 2012 and 2013, Sri Lanka has failed to take effective steps to deliver justice for the victims of its civil war, which ended in 2009. Instead, it has launched an aggressive campaign against those who advocate for accountability and an end to impunity for human rights violations throughout the country.

Allegations have been made that, during the final stage of the armed conflict, government forces intentionally shelled civilians, blocked food and medicine from reaching communities and executed prisoners. Meanwhile witnesses say their armed opponents, known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), recruited child soldiers, used civilians as human shields, and killed those who tried to escape.

Since the end of the conflict, human rights defenders, activists, journalists and civil society members who are critical of the government have regularly been threatened and harassed.

In the past fortnight, three human rights defenders have been detained and held on purported suspicion of terrorism.

On 13 March, Balendran Jeyakumari, an outspoken activist against enforced disappearances, was arrested with her teenage daughter by the Terrorist Investigation Department.

Amnesty International has documented the extensive use of torture at the centre where she is reportedly being held.

When human rights defenders Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesh tried to investigate her arrest and trace her daughter, they too were arrested on 16 March under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They were released after international pressure.

“Not only have the Sri Lankan authorities failed to secure justice for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, they are also actively targeting those seeking justice,” said David Griffiths.

“This resolution is important for those human rights defenders who have risked their lives and freedom to seek the truth and end the ongoing cycle of human rights violations in Sri Lanka. It is equally important for victims and families who have waited many years for justice.”