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Sri Lanka report falls short of addressing war crimes

The final report of Sri Lanka’s Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), released publicly today, acknowledges serious human rights problems in Sri Lanka but falls short of fully addressing the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the final phases of the conflict between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Amnesty International said today.

Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director said:

“A preliminary review of the report suggests that it acknowledges the very serious human rights problems in Sri Lanka.  But where it appears to really falter is in ignoring the serious evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of the laws of war by government forces, even though the report highlights the serious and systematic violations committed by the LTTE.

“There is a clear sign of the bias we had feared and already detected in the LLRC’s composition and conduct. It does however offer some interesting recommendations about how to improve the overall human rights situation in Sri Lanka that the government needs to take seriously.

“The Sri Lankan government must now address the findings included in this report. It should report to the UN Human Rights Council at its next session in March 2012 on its measures to implement the report’s recommendations, including the need for further investigation of alleged violations of the laws of war, taking account of the findings and recommendations of the report of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka.”

The LLRC received numerous testimonies about enforced disappearances, illegal or abusive detention and extrajudicial executions. It has called on the Sri Lankan government to investigate these reports and prosecute violators.
Importantly the report notes that many people stressed that “definitive action against alleged cases of disappearances as well as preventive measure would have a significant impact on the reconciliation process.”

Amnesty International has long held that accountability is essential to reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Although the Sri Lankan authorities should take seriously the LLRC’s recommendations, Amnesty International believes that given Sri Lanka's long history of impunity, lack of apparent political will to address ongoing violations and enormous backlog of unresolved cases of violations, effective investigation and prosecution of all wrongdoers (including commanding officers) is very unlikely without the active support of the international community.

The report’s major shortcoming is in addressing alleged violations of the laws of war, where the LLRC appears to have taken the government's responses uncritically. The LLRC admits what the Government of Sri Lanka has assiduously denied – that civilians, including those in hospitals, suffered directly as a result of LTTE and government shelling, but the LLRC's blanket rejection of government targeting of civilians and its deliberate downplaying of the numbers of civilians caught in the final phase of the conflict is not warranted by the evidence, including that presented to the LLRC.

Sam Zarifi added:

“The LLRC has admitted its own inability to establish the facts about the conduct of the fighting, and points out legal complexities beyond its abilities. This is why the international community must now follow up with an investigation, bringing to bear the full resources and assistance of the UN and the international community.”

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