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Sri Lanka: pressure on for independent war crimes investigation

Lee Rhiannon 18 Apr 2011

The international call for an independent war crimes investigation into the 2009 Sri Lankan civil war has gained a major boost with the release of a leaked version of  a report by the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) panel.

The long awaited report reveals “credible allegations” which if proven would amount to “war crimes” and a “grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace”.

Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd has hopefully read this report and is ready to put his tireless energy into the mounting global call for a war crimes tribunal.

The decision of the Sri Lankan government to reject the report as “fundamentally flawed” underlines the significance of this report.

The current UN report backs up the findings of the UK Newspaper 'The Times' which in May 2009 reported that at least 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final weeks of the war.

While the UNSG report has found that atrocities were committed by both the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers – by far the civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by the Government:

“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.  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.”

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has called (Dec, 2010) for an independent international investigation in these crimes.  Last month the US Senate passed a resolution calling for a war crimes inquiry.

It has been almost impossible for the voice of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka to be heard as the world's media and humanitarian groups were barred from the areas where the army was bombing civilians during the civil war. There is still a significant media blackout in Sri Lanka and any voices critical of the Government is not tolerated.

The photographic and video evidence of the 2009 killing fields is deeply troubling and is a reminder of the need for the war crimes tribunal to be set to work as soon as possible. Crucial evidence is being lost while western powers dither about this investigation.

One of the most disturbing statements in the original 'The Times' report detailed the comments of an aid worker who explained how makeshift hospitals were repeatedly targeted by the Sri Lankan military with some medical posts “bombed within hours of doctors telephoning their co-ordinates to the International Committee of the Red Cross so that the military could avoid bombing them” .

Minister Rudd's skills and global profile could make a real difference here. Publicising this UN report and providing backing and leadership on the establishment of a War Crimes Tribunal should a top priority for Australia's former prime minister.

Recent Australian Media:

Press Release from the Australian Tamil Congress (18th April) : UN Expert Panel Finds Allegations of War Crimes in Sri Lanka Credible, Calls for Independent International Inquiry

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