In 2009 the multi-decade conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government ended in a devastating battle. The Sri Lanka government had pushed the rebel group, as well as Tamil civilians who were not affiliated with the group, into a small region in northeastern Sri Lanka. Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group reported thousands of civilian deaths, as the government indiscriminately bombed the region, and the rebel group did not allow civilians to leave for safer areas. Although there is international concern about the crimes committed by the rebel group, less attention is being paid to those perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government.

On September 22, 2010, the UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic, based out of the American University Washington College of Law, released a new report calling for the establishment of a new international tribunal to prosecute those most responsible for the crimes committed during the conflict. A press release and link to the report is below.


Human Rights Group Calls on the United Nations to Establish War Crimes Tribunal for Sri Lanka

September 22, 2010—The U.N. panel appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should promptly recommend the establishment of an international tribunal for war crimes committed by Sri Lankan security forces against Tamil civilians, states a white paper released today by the UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic (UNROW) at American University Washington College of Law.

On behalf of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, which is represented by UNROW, UNROW demands that justice be given to the Tamil population victimized by the Sri Lankan government.

Evidence indisputably shows that Sri Lankan security forces committed grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law against the Tamil civilian population during the civil war, notes the paper.  Sri Lankan security forces willfully and deliberately bombed or attacked Tamil civilian hospitals, schools, and other non-military buildings, as well as “safety” or “no-fire” zones.  There is ample evidence demonstrating that the Sri Lankan government targeted Tamil civilians in an effort to destroy their culture and population.  Nearly 7,000 civilians were reportedly killed in the five-month period from January to April 2009 alone.  Such attacks on civilians are prohibited by international humanitarian law.

The Sri Lankan government has denied any responsibility for civilian deaths.  In June 2010, the Secretary-General established a three-member panel to advise him on the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to implement accountability measures for alleged human rights violations.  But the Sri Lankan government has prevented the panel from being admitted into the country.  During the summer, government officials led chaotic protests against the panel.

The panel’s work is now officially under way.  The open hostility of the Sri Lankan government toward accountability, however, shows that Sri Lanka is unlikely to implement any forthcoming recommendations from the United Nations, noted UNROW’s paper.

“The U.N. Security Council has an opportunity to reaffirm its intolerance of serious human rights and humanitarian law violations by establishing a temporary international tribunal to investigate and try alleged Sri Lankan war criminals,” states the paper.  Moreover, UNROW stressed that the U.N. Security Council has the authority and a wealth of precedents to establish a tribunal pursuant to its mandate to maintain and restore international peace and security.

The accountability process must not be entrusted, in any measure, to the Sri Lankan government.  Only an international tribunal—bringing with it impartiality, independence, and expertise—can provide the justice that the Tamils need and deserve.  The paper calls attention to the features that are necessary for such a tribunal.

Contact UNROW by phone at 202-274-4088, email at unrowclinic@wcl.american.edu, or mail at UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic, American University Washington College of Law, 4801 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, D.C. 20016 to obtain copies of the white paper.

An electronic copy of the report is available here (.PDF).