War probe raises pressure on Sri Lanka

IMPUNITY ISLAND?:A report by an Australian group said the army has tried to cover up a litany of war crimes, adding to international calls for a government investigation


Thu, Feb 06, 2014 - Page 5

The Sri Lanka Army led an orgy of indiscriminate killing at the climax of the island’s civil war and has since tried to destroy evidence of its crimes, according to a new investigation published yesterday by foreign experts.

A report released by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) in Australia claimed that soldiers committed the “vast majority” of crimes in a final Sri Lankan government offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.

The new probe comes ahead of a session at the UN Human Rights Council next month during which the US is due to table a third resolution pressing Sri Lanka to investigate the conduct of its troops or face further international censure.

Sri Lanka has resisted repeated calls to investigate allegations that up to 40,000 civilians were killed by government forces during the bloody finale to a conflict that dragged on for 37 years.

The center’s International Crimes Evidence Project (ICEP) report, entitled Island of Impunity? included material from independent international experts, UN staff members and new witness testimony.

“Certain alleged crimes committed during the final months of the war involved such flagrant and reckless disregard for the laws of war, which strongly suggests there was intent to commit those crimes,” the report said.

Early analysis suggested that the Sri Lankan government was exhuming and destroying evidence of mass civilian deaths, the report said.

The ICEP said it had obtained testimony from unidentified new witnesses that members of the Sri Lankan security forces had destroyed forensic evidence after the conflict.

“The allegations are that human remains from mass burial sites in the conflict zone were exhumed and were covertly destroyed,” the report said. “This highlights the urgent need for an internationally-mandated investigation.”

It said that such an investigation would be the “most effective mechanism for compiling a comprehensive list of persons for whom prosecutions is, or may be, warranted.”

The ICEP analyzed the command structure of the security forces and the Tamil Tigers, and was also in possession of evidence against individuals responsible for specific crimes during the conflict. The report did not name the individuals, but said they included senior military commanders, government officials as well as surviving members of the Tamil Tiger movement.

It repeated previous charges that government forces executed surrendering senior Tamil Tiger political wing leaders as well as the youngest son of Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was killed on May 18, 2009.

Sri Lanka has repeatedly denied the allegations and say there is an international conspiracy against it.

It lauds its record at defeating the Tamil Tigers, who pioneered the use of suicide bombers and at their height controlled nearly one-third of the country’s territory between 1990 and 1995.

The report said it also had evidence that security forces were using rape and sexual violence on civilians after the war ended, a charge made by other rights groups and denied by Colombo.