South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

AUGUST 11, 2010

(New York) – A US State Department report released on August 11, 2010, shows that Sri Lanka has not yet conducted an effective investigation into laws-of-war violations by government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the final months of the war that ended in May 2009, Human Rights Watch said today. The report states that one post-war government inquiry was “ineffective” and that a second inquiry, just under way, raises concerns about its mandate and composition.

“The US State Department report shows that nearly 15 months after the war, the Sri Lankan government has accomplished nothing for the victims of war crimes,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. “Real progress on justice demands an international investigation.”

The 18-page State Department report, mandated by the 2010 Appropriations Act and prepared by the Office of War Crimes Issues, examines two ad hoc bodies that the Sri Lankan government established after the 26-year armed conflict ended in 2009.

The State Department report concludes that the “Group of Eminent Persons,” a committee created to examine more than 300 alleged laws-of-war violations detailed in an October 2009 US State Department report, was “ineffective” and “did not produce any discernible results.”

The report states: “The Department of State is not aware of any findings or reports of the Group. The Group did not appear to investigate allegations or to make any recommendations pursuant to its mandate.” The Group of Eminent Persons missed several deadlines for its report, the last in July, and now has been subsumed into the new commission.

The State Department report expresses concerns about the mandate and composition of the second panel, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which has just started its work. The report notes that “the terms of reference are ambiguous as to what types of harms they cover and whether the investigation is linked to violations of international law.”

The report also says that there are “questions concerning the independence and impartiality of some members of the commission,” including the chairman, C.R. De Silva. It noted that De Silva’s “relationship to the government” and “his involvement in the failure” of a previous commission “could compromise the independence and impartiality” of the commission.

The report also concludes that several experts commissioned by the government to examine a video of alleged extrajudicial executions by army soldiers were government and army experts and that such an inquiry “should have been undertaken by individuals without an interest in the outcome of the forensic analysis.”

The report notes “the history of failings of a series of past [Commissions of Inquiry] established in Sri Lanka.” Sri Lanka has a long history of establishing ad hoc inquiries to deflect international criticism over its poor human rights record and widespread impunity, Human Rights Watch said. Since independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has established more than 10 such commissions, none of which have produced any significant results.

On June 22, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed a three-person Panel of Experts to advise him on next steps on accountability in Sri Lanka. The US and other governments have supported the panel, which follows up on the commitment to investigate abuses made by the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to Ban in May 2009. Sri Lankan officials have called the panel “an unwarranted and unnecessary interference with a sovereign nation.” In July, demonstrations against the panel led by a Sri Lankan government minister blocked access to the UN compound in Colombo, prompting Ban to recall the UN’s ranking official in Sri Lanka temporarily and to close one of its offices. The Panel of Experts is to present its findings in four months.

“The State Department report shows that countries should be looking toward the UN to see justice done in Sri Lanka,” Ross said. “The support of the US and other governments for the UN Panel of Experts and the implementation of its recommendations is crucial.”