Sri Lanka: UN Report on war crimes comes too late for the Tamils

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The government had declared “safe zones” to allow civilians to seek shelter, but information made available to Amnesty International indicates that several civilians in the so-called safe zone have been killed or sustained injuries as a result of artillery bombardment.

A doctor working in a hospital in a “safe zone” says that about 1,000 shells fell around the hospital.

The current leaked UN Report states:

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…. The Government systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines.

How did the government manage to carry out such carnage without apparent scrutiny by the national and international media? Why was it able to act with such impunity?

Perhaps a massacre of a minority population in a tiny island nation in South Asia wasn’t deemed worthy of coverage by media outlets at the time. Those were the heady days of “hope and change” entering the White House; more significantly, the brutal invasion of Gaza by Israel during the opening weeks of 2009 focused many journalists’ and human rights activists’ attention on the Middle East, even as an equally horrific operation was being carried out halfway across the world.

More important in this regard, however, was the sheer callousness with which the Sri Lankan state silenced its many critics at home. In February 2009, I wrote about the assassination January 8 of a leading journalist and critic of the government, and editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, Lasantha Wickramatunga. What made his assassination (in broad daylight, on a busy street in Colombo) so sensational, and poignant, was the fact that his last article, “And then they came for me,” was a moving and passionate letter to his readers predicting his own death at the hands of his government. As I stated back then, it was not surprising that “Reporters Without Borders ranks Sri Lanka 165th (out of 173 countries) in its index of press freedom around the world.”

Despite this, mainstream international media did, in fact, try to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable, as BBC’s Stephen Sackur did in this hard-hitting interview with Mahinda Samarasinghe, the Sri Lankan Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights (sic), which aired on March 3, 2009:

This is not to exculpate the LTTE, which was hardly an organization devoted to human rights. As the UN Report states:

the LTTE refused civilians permission to leave, using them as hostages, at times even using their presence as a strategic human buffer…

From February 2009 onwards, the LTTE started point-blank shooting of civilians who attempted to escape the conflict zone, significantly adding to the death toll in the final stages of the war.

The LTTE and the Sri Lankan army matched each others’ ruthlessness in these closing months of the conflict. But once the LTTE had been vanquished, and its top leadership killed,

The Government subjected victims and survivors of the conflict to further deprivation and suffering after they left the conflict zone. Screening for suspected LTTE took place without any transparency or external scrutiny. Some of those who were separated were summarily executed, and some of the women may have been raped. Others disappeared….

A Channel 4 news report was a key part of the evidence for these allegations (WARNING: disturbing footage)

But as I said above, much of this has been known for a while.

What is new, however is a tiny little statement tucked away towards the end of the leaked report, which states:

During the final stages of the war, the United Nations political organs and bodies failed to take actions that might have protected civilians.

As Western governments scramble to demonstrate their concern for the “protection of civilians” in Libya, who will hold them accountable for failing to act in Sri Lanka?

For that matter, when will we see a United Nations report on the war crimes committed by the U.S. and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, or call for the indictment of top U.S. officials?

I’m not holding my breath.

One thing’s for sure. The release of this report will make it just that much more difficult for the Sri Lankan government to cover up its history of oppression, brutality, and war crimes in the name of “moving forward in unity.”

2 comments on “Sri Lanka: UN Report on war crimes comes too late for the Tamils

  1. tonyviews says:

    It is evident how keen some politicians are in endorsing the UN report???
    After the US & UK supported the report explicitly in public. It makes us wonder how neutral the UN is????
    After all it’s clearly sabotage, towards a country like Srilanka where there is no war anymore and people are working towards reconstruction and rehabilitation,,,

    • LeftyProf says:

      I’m not sure if you read my post, Tony, but I don’t think we see eye to eye. To suggest that because the war has ended, and the state now touts itself as moving towards “reconstruction and reconciliation,” any criticism of the state’s brutality is invalid and mere “sabotage” is … astounding. You merely repeat what the government is saying….