At long last Sri Lanka's war crimes will be investigated

As I walked to work today I had a skip in my step. A perfect combination of early morning sunshine and Nina Simone’s dulcet tones singing ‘I wish I knew how it feels to be free’ (which always reminds me of Amnesty’s local group in York dancing flashmob).

It also reminds me that we (Amnesty) are made up of ordinary individuals who, moved by injustice, give up both time and money to make a difference in this mean old world. We may not always succeed but we always persevere. However, yesterday was one of those days when our time and dedication made a difference…

Yesterday the UN Human Rights Council voted to establish an inquiry into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka, something we have all fought long and hard for. After a certain amount of wrangling with the rules and filibustering, the Resolution was passed with 23 states in favour, 12 against and 12 abstentions.

In the final weeks of Sri Lanka’s armed conflict in May 2009 an estimated 40,000 civilians were killed. Corralled into government 'No Fire Zones' on northern beaches, civilians were shelled and hospitals deliberately bombed. The opposition Tamil Tigers (LTTE) conscripted child soldiers, used civilians as human shields against the approaching army and shot those who tried to escape. People trapped by the fighting were deprived of food, water and medical care.

So many brave human rights defenders, victims and families in Sri Lanka have risked their lives and freedom to seek the truth and justice: this UN inquiry will bring fresh hope. It also holds the power to shatter the climate of impunity that has long fuelled ongoing human rights abuses and a vicious crackdown on civil society by Sri Lankan authorities.

Thank you

Here in the UK we have spent years keeping up the pressure on our government, asking them to play their part in securing an international inquiry into alleged war crimes. So many thank yous are in order.

International community should support clear call by High Commissioner for #HumanRights for an international investigation #SriLanka #HRC25

— UK Mission Geneva (@UKMissionGeneva) March 27, 2014

There will be a UN #Srilanka war crimes investigation. Members of UNHRC voted 23 for, 12 against and 12 absentions. MOMENTOUS

— Jonathan Miller (@millerC4) March 27, 2014

Thank you if you were one of the 10,000 Amnesty supporters who wrote to the UK government last year.

Thank you to the hundreds of students who marched on Parliament dressed as Grim Reapers calling for justice and accountability in Sri Lanka.

Thank you to Channel 4 News and the team at No Fire Zone for making sure the horrors of the conflict were seen on TV and film screens across the UK (and globally).

Thanks to all of you - and to pressure from all UK Parliamentarians - David Cameron committed to press for an international inquiry at the UN. The UK played a pivotal role in making the case for an international inquiry given the failure of  the Sri Lankan government to investigate properly, supporting the resolution presented by the United States.

What needs to happen now?

At Amnesty, our focus is now twofold. Firstly, we are calling on the Sri Lankan authorities to cooperate with UN investigators. Secondly, we are calling on Sri Lanka to end a nationwide crackdown on dissent and to stop actively targeting those seeking justice.

Since the conflict ended in 2009, many human rights defenders, activists, journalists and civil society members who have criticised the government have regularly been threatened and harassed. In the run-up to this week's UN Conference, Sri Lankan authorities detained three human rights defenders - two of whom, Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesh, were released after international pressure.

However Balendran Jeyakumari, an outspoken activist against enforced disappearances, is still being held by the Terrorist Investigation Department in a centre where we have documented the extensive use of torture. So please take a moment to write to the Sri Lankan Authorities and ask them to release Balendran Jeyakumari, or charge her with a recognizably criminal offence and try her promptly and ensure that she is protected from torture and other ill-treatment. 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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