(New York) – The Sri Lankan army’s announcement that it had appointed a five-member court of inquiry to investigate allegations that its forces committed serious violations of the laws of war appears to be another government delaying tactic in the face of mounting international pressure, Human Rights Watch said today.
The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva is expected to discuss at its next session a resolution on the lack of accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by government forces and the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during the final months of their armed conflict, which ended in May 2009. The session begins February 27, 2012.
“The Sri Lankan army’s announced inquiry appears to be a transparent ploy to deflect a global push for a genuine international investigation, not a sudden inspiration nearly three years after the war,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This inquiry, coming on the eve of a possible Sri Lanka resolution at the Human Rights Council, looks like yet another cynical and meaningless move.”
Previously the Sri Lankan army had maintained that it bore no responsibility for any civilian deaths in the final months of the fighting. However, reports by a UN Panel of Experts, the US State Department, and human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch have provided detailed accounts of indiscriminate shelling of civilians and extrajudicial killings by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly denounced these efforts, as well as the possible resolution at the Human Rights Council.
The members of the army court of inquiry were appointed by Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, who was commander of the security forces in the Vanni, the main battle zone of the conflict, during the last few years of the war. Jayasuriya was “actively engaged in the overall military planning and operations in the Vanni,” according to the army’s official website. An inquiry appointed by the commander who oversaw and was a colleague of senior officers who might themselves have been implicated in serious abuses cannot possibly be expected to be an independent and impartial finder of facts, Human Rights Watch said.
Sri Lanka has a long history of establishing commissions of inquiry in the face of public pressure, appointing commission members friendly to the government, and either obstructing or ignoring the findings, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch has long supported a recommendation by the UN Panel of Experts to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to establish an independent international mechanism to investigate violations of international law during the Sri Lankan conflict. A report by the governmental Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) published in December 2011 made strong recommendations on human rights concerns, but almost completely ignored the matter of accountability for government abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
“For the sake of the victims and their families, this court of inquiry needs to be more than just a stunt to prevent a Sri Lanka resolution at the Human Rights Council,” Adams said. “We’ll believe they are serious about accountability when people are charged and tried for serious abuses regardless of rank. Otherwise this body simply fits into a piece with all the other broken promises on accountability that the Sri Lankan government has made in recent years.”