BACKGROUND TO THE SRI LANKA CAMPAIGN
In May 2009, after 26 years of failed cease-fires and ongoing civil conflict, the Sinhalese dominated Sri Lankan Government declared it had defeated the Tamil Tigers or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after army forces captured the last patch of rebel held territory in the north east of the country. It is estimated that approximately 215,000 people have been killed in the country's civil war, with former Australian UN official in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, stating that upto 40,000 civilians died in the last few months.
At the end of the war, about 330,000 Tamils were imprisoned in government run internment camps. Allegations of sexual abuse, torture, extra judicial killings and abductions ran rife. As International aid agencies, media and the United Nations had been restricted access to the camps, verifying these allegations at the time were impossible. In May 2009, Britain's C4 was the first independent media to smuggle footage out of these camps. Shocking claims of 'shortages of food and water, dead bodies left where they have fallen, women separated from their families, and sexual abuse were aired.
The International Crisis Group's report said that 2 years after the war, Sri Lanka is further from reconciliation than ever :
Many households are now headed by women, who are extremely vulnerable under military rule. Much of the aid promised has not arrived, and all is strictly controlled by the military. Over two thirds of the nearly 300,000 displaced civilians interned in the north at the end of the war have been sent home, but mostly to areas devoid of the most basic amenities. Another 180,000 of those and others displaced in prior stages of the war are still in camps or other temporary settings. Of the 12,000 or more alleged LTTE cadres detained at the end of the war, 3,000 are still undergoing "rehabilitation". Hundreds more LTTE suspects, many detained for years without charge, are held separately. There is little transparency about the numbers or identities of post-war detainees, and upon release, many are closely monitored and harassed or pressured to act as informants. Families throughout the north and east are still searching for missing relatives.
Stories of forced colonisation of Tamil areas, abduction of Tamils in white vans, violence against journalists, media suppression and sexual abuse by the military continue to grow.
In March 2011 the much-awaited report of the Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka was released. The Panel 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 Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Even though report cited evidence of war crimes committed by both sides, it found that most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling of shelling civilians in the 'no-fire zone' and of targeting hospitals.
One of the recommendations of the panel was that the Secretary-General should immediately proceed to establish an independent international mechanism, whose mandate should include conducting investigations independently into the alleged violations.
On 14th of June 2011 UK's Channel 4 presented an investigation into the final weeks of the quarter-century-long civil war between the government of Sri Lanka and the secessionist rebels, the Tamil Tigers. On the 4th of July, a part of it was aired in Australia by 4 Corners.
Sri Lanka's Killing Fields sent shockwaves through the international community. The allegations and the horrific images were impossible to ignore.
In response to this documentary Britain's PM David Cameron said: "The Sri Lankan government does need this to be investigated and the UN needs this to be investigated".
In Australia, while PM Julia Gillard maintained her silence, Australian Greens leader Bob Brown raised a motion in the Senate calling for the 'allegations of war crimes committed by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to be investigated and verified '. The motion was unanimously passed through the Senate in July 2011 in the first week that Lee took up her position as a Federal Greens senator.
Since then Sri Lanka has been Lee's country of interest and she her team have been actively campaigning for to ensure an independent war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka will become a reality.