Sri Lanka must be pursued for war crimes

[Tamil refugees. Image: Free Malaysia Today.]
The following statement was released by the Socialist Alliance in Australia.
May 22, 2011 -- The report of the three-person panel appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise him on human rights issues in Sri Lanka has found “credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law was committed both by the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam], some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

The report focused on the final months of the war between the LTTE (an organisation that fought for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka) and the Sri Lankan government.

The LTTE was defeated in May 2009.

The panel found “credible allegations associated with the final stages of the war. Between September 2008 and 19 May 2009, the Sri Lanka Army advanced its military campaign into the [Tamil province of] Vanni using large-scale and widespread shelling, causing large numbers of civilian deaths ...

“The Government shelled on a large scale in three consecutive No Fire Zones, where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate, even after indicating that it would cease the use of heavy weapons.

“It shelled the United Nations hub, food distribution lines and near the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) ships that were coming to pick up the wounded and their relatives from the beaches …

“Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling.

“The Government systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines. All hospitals in the Vanni were hit by mortars and artillery, some of them hit repeatedly, despite the fact that their locations were well-known to the Government.

“The Government also systematically deprived people in the conflict zone of humanitarian aid, in the form of food and medical supplies, particularly surgical supplies, adding to their suffering ...

“The Government subjected victims and survivors of the conflict to further deprivation and suffering after they left the conflict zone.”

The report said 300,000 displaced Tamil people were detained in “terrible conditions” in overcrowded camps. It said some alleged LTTE members were subject to summary execution or disappearance.

The UN panel's report is useful in drawing attention to many of the crimes of the Sri Lankan government, but its recommendations are inadequate.

On the one hand, it calls on the Sri Lankan government to conduct “genuine investigations” into human rights violations ― i.e. mainly its own crimes.

On the other hand, the report talks vaguely about an “independent international mechanism” that might also conduct investigations.

Socialist Alliance supports the call by the Australian Federation of Tamil Associations for an investigation, either by the International Criminal Court or by a Special War Crimes Tribunal for Sri Lanka.

We call on the Australian government to support this proposal.

But an investigation that looks only at the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE will be insufficient. Sri Lanka received military aid from a range of countries, including the United States (which provided satellite intelligence, training, equipment and other aid), Israel (which provided some of the planes that bombed Tamil civilians), India, China and others.

These governments were complicit in the Sri Lankan government's crimes against the Tamil people.

The report has other limitations. For example, it dismisses the desire of many Tamils for an independent Tamil homeland as “extreme Tamil nationalism”.

Socialist Alliance supports the right of Tamils to self-determination, including the right to form a separate state if they so wish.

We oppose the continuing military occupation of the Tamil areas of the island of Sri Lanka by the Sri Lankan Army. We condemn the murders, disappearances and harassment of Tamil people by the army and its associated paramilitary groups.

We call for the withdrawal of the Sri Lankan Army from Tamil areas.

We oppose the Sri Lankan government's policy of establishing Sinhalese settlements in Tamil areas. This policy resembles the Israeli government's policy of establishing Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and has a similar purpose ― to prevent the Tamil people from exercising their right of self-determination.

Socialist Alliance will continue to support the Tamil people in their struggle for human rights and national self-determination.

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