Lankan forces knowingly killed civilians, says report
A United States-based rights group has claimed that Sri Lanka's military killed thousands of civilians by shelling 'no fire zones' during the last phase of the ethnic conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
The International Crisis Group, an advocacy group based in Brussels and Washington, said despite its promises to protect civilians and aid workers, the Lankan government had bombed relentlessly in areas where it knew unarmed people were present. The group said it has reasons to believe that senior government and military officials were aware of the attacks, but failed to protect the civilians.
"The violations, by both sides in the conflict, became particularly frequent and deadly in the months leading to the government's declaration of victory over the LTTE in May 2009," the group said in a report, released on the eve of the first anniversary of the end of the bloody civil war that had claimed over 70,000 lives.
At the same time, the report also said the LTTE 'deliberately carried out operations' in some areas in northern Lanka with a heavy civilian presence in order to get international attention against the government. Sri Lanka announced victory in the civil war on May 18 after its forces killed the entire Tamil Tiger leadership, including chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The country will observe Tuesday as 'unification day'. The report said that the avaliable evidence provides reasonable grounds to believe that government security forces repeatedly and intentionally violated the law by attacking civilians, hospitals and humanitarian operations.
The report also said "the consequences of the security forces' shelling were made substantially worse by the government's obstruction of food and medical treatment for the civilian population by knowingly claiming that the civilian population was less than one third its actual size and denying adequate supplies."
Image: The destruction at a makeshift field hospital in Mullivaikal
'Lanka failed in its obligation to protect civilians'
The group claimed that the Lankan military encouraged thousands of people to move into the 'no fire zones' declared by the government and then subjected them to "repeated and increasingly intense artillery and mortar barrages."
"It also provides reason to believe that senior government and military officials were aware of the massive civilian casualties due to the security forces' attacks, but failed to protect the civilian population as they were obliged to under the laws of war," it added.
The report called for an international inquiry into the alleged crimes committed during the army's offensive against the LTTE. "The scale of civilian deaths and suffering demands a response," said Crisis Group president Louise Arbour.
The group claimed that the government, despite knowing the size and location of the 'no fire zones', continuously targetted these areas with mortar and artillery fire. Similarly, despite having full knowledge of the location of make-shift hospitals and the humanitarian operations which were being carried out near the war zone, they did not hesitate to target such areas.
Image: People cross over to the government side during the final offensive against the LTTE
Many nations turned a blind eye to human rights violations
"Future generations will demand to know what happened, and future peace in Sri Lanka requires some measure of justice," said the report.
The report also suggested that the Tamil Tigers also endangered civilians by shooting at them and preventing them from leaving the conflict zone, even those who were injured and dying.
The IRC also found that the international community 'turned a blind eye' to the human rights violations. It also noted that the United Nations too readily complied with the government's demands to withdraw from conflict areas. "Many countries welcomed the LTTE's defeat regardless of the cost of immense civilian suffering," it said.
For the past two months, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has been in the process of finalising experts for an advisory panel that will counsel him on what accountability issues arise and what options can be pursued about alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
The group claims it has evidence in the form of eyewitness statements, photographs and videos that susbstantiate its claims. The Lankan government has steadfastly refused to comment on this issue.
Image: A Lankan soldier carries a child in the war zone
SL rejects all demands for an international tribunal
Despite the call by several human rights organisations, Colombo has, so far, rejected any demand for an international tribunal.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International also called on the UN to set up an immediate and independent investigation into human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
"At the end of the war, atrocities against civilians and enemy combatants appeared to be fueled by a sense that there would be no real international consequences for violating the law," said Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty International's deputy director for Asia-Pacific.
The ICG wants the Lankans to coperate with international efforts to probe war crimes. They also want the LTTE cadres to be tried in open court to enhance transparency. They also sought compensation for the kin of those killed during the offensive.
Image: People wait at a makeshift-camp in the war zone