Plight Of Sri Lankan Tamils: India Shouldn’t Keep Silent
By Justice Rajinder Sachar, Countercurrents.org, 28 May, 2011 - The tragic situation of the Sri Lankan Tamils continues to shock the nations on surface. But nothing concrete is being done by the UN or by India which has a special responsibility in the matter.
Tragic happenings following the breakdown of the ceasefire in Sri Lanka were enquired into by the Permanent People’s Tribunal, which held its sittings from January 14, 2010, at Dublin, and published its report on January 17, 2010. I was one of the 10 members of this panel.
The tribunal regretted that even after repeated pleas, and in spite of the appalling conditions experienced by Tamils, the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council failed to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the role of those responsible for the atrocities committed.
At long last on June 22, 2010, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of a panel of experts to advise him on the implementation of the joint commitment included in the statement issued by the President of Sri Lanka and the Secretary-General wherein the Government of Sri Lanka agreed that it “will take measures to address those grievances”. The panel submitted its report to the Secretary-General on March 31 this year.
Thus, in conclusion, the panel found credible allegations that comprise five core categories of potential serious violations committed by the Government of Sri Lanka: killing of civilians through widespread shelling; shelling of hospitals and humanitarian objects; denial of humanitarian assistance; human rights violations suffered by victims and survivors of the conflict, including both IDPs and suspected LTTE cadres; and human rights violations outside the conflict zone, including against the media and other critics of the government.
All these credibly alleged violations demand a serious investigation and the prosecution of those responsible, including Sri Lanka Army commanders and senior government officials. The panel has concluded that the government’s notion of accountability is not in accordance with international standards.
The government has established the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission as the cornerstone of its policy to address the past, from the ceasefire agreement in 2002 to the end of the conflict in May 2009, but it has failed to satisfy key international standards of independence and impartiality.
During the course of its work, the panel observed that there are several other contemporary issues in Sri Lanka, which if left unaddressed, will deter efforts towards genuine accountability and may undermine prospects for durable peace in consequence. Most notably, these include the following: (i) Triumphalism on the part of the government, expressed through its discourse on having developed the means and will to defeat “terrorism”, thus ending Tamil aspirations for political autonomy and recognition, and its denial regarding the human cost of its military strategy.
(ii) On-going exclusionary policies, which are particularly deleterious as political, social and economic exclusion based on ethnicity, perceived or real, have been at the heart of the conflict.
(iii) The continuation of wartime measures, including not only the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act but also the continued militarisation of the former conflict zone and the use of paramilitary proxies, all of which perpetuate a climate of fear, intimidation and violence.
(iv) Restrictions on the media, which are contrary to democratic governance and limit basic citizens’ rights. (v) The role of the Tamil diaspora, which provided vital moral and material support to the LTTE over decades, and some of whom refuse to acknowledge the LTTE’s role in the humanitarian disaster in the Vanni, creating a further obstacle to accountability and sustainable peace.
The panel regretted that an environment conducive to accountability, which would permit a candid appraisal of the broad patterns of the past, including the root causes of the long-running ethno-nationalist conflict, does not exist at present. It would require concrete steps towards building an open society in which human rights are respected, as well as a fundamental shift away from triumphalism and denial towards a genuine commitment to a political solution that recognises Sri Lanka’s ethnic diversity and the full and inclusive citizenship of all of its people, including Tamils, as the foundation for the country’s future. During the final stages of the war, the United Nations political organs and bodies failed to take actions that might have protected civilians.
The panel has recommended that in the light of the allegations found credible by it, the Government of Sri Lanka, in compliance with its international obligations and with a view to initiating an effective domestic accountability process, should immediately commence genuine investigations into these and other alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by both sides involved in the armed conflict.
The following immediate measures have been recommended to advance accountability: The Government of Sri Lanka should implement the following short-term measures, with a focus on acknowledging the right and survivors in the Vanni.
Considering the response of the United Nations to the plight of civilians in Vanni during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka and its aftermath the Human Rights Council should be invited to reconsider its May 2009 Special Session Resolution (A/HRC/S-II/L.I/Rev.2) regarding Sri Lanka in light of this report. And the Secretary-General should conduct a comprehensive review of actions by the UN system during the war in Sri Lanka and the aftermath regarding the implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates.
It is regrettable that Sri Lanka is refusing to receive the UN delegation. This open defiance of international protocol cannot be accepted. India should, in the cause of humanitarian law, insist and also create world opinion to demand that Sri Lanka must abide and carry out the recommendation given in UN report.
To keep silent is not an option to India which owes not only moral but also legal responsibility to see that the Sri Lankan Tamils are not denied their human rights and democratic political and dignified participation in Sri Lanka in all walks of society and the administration.
Justice Rajinder Sachar is former Chief Justice of the High Court of Delhi