| by Pearl Thevanayagam
(January 15, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is but less than three months before Sri Lanka faces serious war crimes allegations before the ICC (International Crimes Court). The government will argue that it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute which can prosecute individuals for serious crimes which include war crimes. But although the UN Security Council has so far not referred Sri Lanka to the ICC, UNSG (United Nations Secretary General) Ban-Ki-Moon has forwarded his own panel report with 10 serious allegations of war time atrocities against Tamil civilians and surrendering or captured LTTE cadres.
The UNSG panel’s specific allegations against the government are as follows:
• The Sri Lankan military used large-scale and widespread shelling causing large numbers of civilian deaths. This constituted persecution of the population of the Vanni.
• The Sri Lankan government tried to intimidate and silence the media and other critics of the war using a variety of threats and actions, including the use of white vans to abduct and to make people disappear.
• The Sri Lankan military shelled on large scale the three Safe Zones where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate. It did this even after saying it would cease using heavy weapons.
• The Sri Lankan military shelled the UN hub, food distribution lines and Red Cross ships coming to rescue the wounded and their relatives. It did this despite having intelligence as well as notifications by the UN, Red Cross and others.
• Most of the civilian casualties were caused by Sri Lankan military shelling.
• The Sri Lankan military systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines. All hospitals in the Vanni were hit by mortars and artillery, sometimes repeatedly, despite the Sri Lankan military knowing their locations.
• The Sri Lankan government systematically deprived civilians in the conflict zone of humanitarian aid, in the form of food and medical supplies, adding to their suffering. The government deliberately underestimated the number of civilians in order to deprive them of humanitarian aid.
• Tens of thousands of civilians were killed between January and May 2009. Many died anonymously in the final days.
• The Sri Lankan government subjected the civilians who managed to escape the conflict zone to further deprivation and suffering.
• Screening for Tamil Tigers took place without any transparency or external scrutiny. Some of those separated by the screening were summarily executed whilst women were raped. Others simply disappeared.
• All IDPs were detained in closed overcrowded camps where they were deprived of their basic rights. The conditions in the camps resulted in many unnecessary deaths.
• There were interrogations and torture in the camps. Suspected Tamil Tigers were taken to other facilities where they faced further abuse.
Its allegations against the LTTE are as follows:
• The Tamil Tigers refused to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone and kept them as hostages. The civilians were sometimes used as human shields.
• The Tamil Tigers forcibly recruited members during whole civil war but this intensified during the final stages of the war. Some of the recruits were young as 14.
• The Tamil Tigers forced civilians to dig trenches, risking making them look like combatants.
• The Tamil Tigers kept on fighting even when it became clear they had lost in order to save the lives of its leaders. This futile prolonging of the conflict resulted many civilians dying unnecessarily.
• The Tamil Tigers shot at point blank any civilian trying to leave the conflict zone.
• The Tamil Tigers fired artillery from near civilians. They also stored military equipment near civilians and civilian structures such as hospitals.
• The Tamil Tigers carried out suicide attacks against civilians outside the conflict zone even during the final stages of the civil war.
The Tamil Tigers kept hostage 330,000 civilians who were fleeing the shelling and trapped in an ever decreasing area.
In May 2009 17 countries attempted to get the 11th session get the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) to investigate war crimes in Sri Lanka but thanks to China, Russia and India, yes, India and other developing countries Sri Lanka manged to escape UNHRC’s probe. US government while prevaricating on the war crimes investigations has urged the government to justify credible and reliable allegations that it was directly complicit in war crimes.
Less publicised but notably crucial to the war crimes probes is the Permanent People’s Tribunal comprising 11 judges which held a session in Dublin, Ireland which after receiving reports from NGOs and human rights groups, victims’ testimony, eye-witness accounts including from members of the Sri Lanka armed forces, expert testimony, media reports, video footage and photographs. Parts of the tribunal were held in camera to protect the identity of witnesses. In conclusion the tribunal found the Sri Lanka government guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
How the government could extricate itself from such serious allegations remains a conundrum. It does not take Boolean algebra to nail the government for all the misery heaped upon innocent Tamil civilians. India, US, UK and other nations which fuelled the war against Tamils for their own selfish trade interests cannot escape the sword of justice.
Atonement and a change of regime, failing which international intervention seems inevitable.