Sri Lanka and the war-time massacres: how ideally the Government should react

March 4, 2013

In one of my posts of last week I referred to the panicked, knee-jerk reaction of the Sri Lankan Government to the showing of the film  No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka  at the UN in Geneva. Now I have come across a much more reasonable and constructive reaction published in the Sri Lankan The Island of 1 march 2013. The whole piece is worth reading; here follow just some excerpts for those pressed for time:

Every time, the United Nations Human Rights Council meets in session or one of the international Human Rights Organizations issues a statement on violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, the government of Sri Lanka gets into a combat mode. Their response follows the rule that attack is the best form of defence. The attack takes the form of personal abuse directed at the human rights defenders; there is no attempt to meet the issues of violations that have been raised. Its apologists and other hangers-on merely follow suit with hysterical outbursts against the United Nations, the international community and the local human rights defenders. None of them seem to care to read the reports released by the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights or by the different human rights organizations. Their criticism of the reports is therefore not informed and raises more issues than clarifying any. Mahinda Samarasinghe [the SL Ambassador] is normally not prone to such hysterical responses; his speech at the current sessions of the UNHRC therefore seems untypical of him.article_image

…..If our country is to develop and our people are to become responsible citizens, then all alleged violations must be subject to independent and impartial investigation. This was recommendation of the government appointed Lessons Learnt and reconciliation Commission. Based on the recommendations of the LLRC, the government drew up a National Action Plan. The plan was silent on some key recommendations but even on those which it pledged to implement, very little meaningful action has been taken….

Take the case of the recent discovery of human skeletons in a mass grave in Matale. The preliminary investigations by scientists and forensic experts suggest that this was a ‘crime site’ related to the second southern insurgency. But this has to be investigated. There were attempts recently to cover up this site and close investigations. We trust this will be resisted and an independent investigation conducted, particularly in view of the suspicion that war crimes may have been committed. Such a follow-up is important if the results of the preliminary investigations tracing these findings to the second insurgency are shown to be correct. Even suspected insurgents and criminals are entitled to rights. Extra-judicial executions under any circumstances are totally unacceptable. A Police spokesperson has suggested that these remains belong to those buried in an earthquake in the area in 1946. At that time, there were apparently no reports of missing persons. But in any case, to clear any doubt, it is necessary that an impartial probe by an independent body is done.

Dr Navi Pillay and UNHCHR…..Critics who say that she has not been fair to the position of the Sri Lankan government must realize that she has never been accused of bias in her judicial career. From being the first female Judge of the South African Supreme Court in 1994, she was selected as a Judge of the ICRT in 1996 and then from 2003 as Judge of the newly set up International Criminal Court in The Hague. …….Pillay paid a tribute to human rights defenders in her opening address to the current session of the UN Human Rights Council: ‘Civil society has evolved and expanded, with many more active national human rights organizations around today than there were 20 years ago. These national human rights defenders are the heroes of our time. It is, therefore, a matter of great concern that so many State authorities continue to ignore or repress civil society organizations, human rights defenders and the media. These organizations and individuals inject the life blood into human rights: they are the promoters of change, the people who ring the alarm about abuse, poor legislation and creeping authoritarianism. Nonetheless I continue to hear of brave human rights defenders, journalists or bloggers who have been threatened, harassed, arrested or killed because of their work on behalf of the human rights of others. Such intimidation has sometimes even occurred during the proceedings of this Council. We must never tolerate such pressure, or reprisals against those who rightly seek to engage the international human rights system.’….

It must be emphasized that the resolution passed last year and the one coming up for a vote this year are for the government to take meaningful steps to strengthen its record on human rights. They are not against Sri Lanka as a country. On the contrary, if the recommendations in the resolutions, as also the recommendations of the LLRC, are implemented in the right spirit, it will be a boost for Sri Lanka. Last year a film came out showing killings that alleged violations of humanitarian laws. This year, another film is being exhibited that shows a young boy, purportedly the son of the LTTE supremo Prabhakaran, before and after being extra-judicially killed. Like last year, the government contests the authenticity of the film. In view of the controversy over this, the LLRC recommended that ‘the Government of Sri Lanka institute an independent investigation into this issue with a view to establishing the truth or otherwise of these allegations and take action in accordance with the laws of the land. Equally, the Commission feels that arrangements should be made to ensure and facilitate the confidentiality and protection of information and informants. The Commission strongly urges all those concerned, especially the organizations that provided the original images and the broadcasting organization, to extend fullest coöperation by providing the necessary information to facilitate this work.’ Sadly, this recommendation has not been acted upon…….

If Sri Lanka is to get its act right, we have to convince the human rights defenders, both local or international, that the government of Sri Lanka is serious about adherence to the rule of law. Beyond rhetoric, its actions so far provide little conviction that it is inclined to uphold the rule of law and international humanitarian laws. The farcical impeachment process of the 43rd Chief Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake and its denial of many of the key LLRC recommendations is evidence that the government has many lessons yet to learn, if it is so inclined to do so.

full piece at:


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