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The Sri Lankan government report by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission does not take into account the worst abuses perpetrated by government forces and does not advance accountability for the people victimized by Sri Lanka’s civil armed conflict, said the Human Rights Watch.
The report is 388 pages long and was posted on the government’s website on December 16, 2011. The report, while long-awaited, was unsatisfactory and gave very little new information on accountability that could not have previously been enforced by the government. Its shortcomings bring to light a need for an international investigative power, which was suggested by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts last April.
Though the UN Panel of Experts recommended establishing an independent international power to perform investigations into the suspected violations, the Sri Lankan government report shows no realistic way to make the military and government officials that were implicated in serious abuses accountable for their actions. “Governments and UN bodies have held back for the past 18 months to allow the Sri Lankan commission to make progress on accountability,” stated Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The commission’s failure to provide a road map for investigating and prosecuting wartime perpetrators shows the dire need for an independent, international commission.”
The report’s findings mainly exonerated government forces for laws-of-war violations. This is in stark contrast to the findings of the UN Panel of Experts, who concluded that the Sri Lankan government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam both conducted military operations “with flagrant disregard for the protection, rights, welfare, and lives of civilians and failed to respect the norms of international law.”
Due to a large amount of evidence, the report did admit that there were “considerable civilian causalities” during the last stages of fighting and that hospitals had been shelled, resulting in damage and civilian deaths. “It is important that a government-appointed body has laid to rest the bizarre claims of the government that its forces caused no civilian casualties,” Adams said. “Yet, the commission shockingly fails to call for any criminal investigations into artillery shelling of crowded areas in which tens of thousands of civilians died.”
The report failed to inspect the use of heavy artillery against civilian areas as well, and sexual violence was not talked about in the report, which is probably because the commission lacks any form of witness protection. It also failed to mention the torture of detainees, the months-long detention of hundreds of thousands of people that were displaced by the fighting, or the refusal of due process rights for the detainees in the so-called rehabilitation centers.
“It is clear that justice for conflict-related abuses is not going to happen within Sri Lanka’s domestic institutions,” Adams alleged. “The government has been playing for time by appointing the LLRC. That time has now run out.”
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