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Monday, August 06, 2007

Sri Lanka government rights abuses on the rise: HRW
Michael Sung at 8:17 AM ET

[JURIST] The Sri Lankan government is responsible for a dramatic increase in unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and other serious human rights violations [press release] since the resumption of hostilities in 2006 with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [CFR backgrounder], according to a report [PDF text] released Monday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said that "the Sri Lankan government has apparently given its security forces a green light to use 'dirty war' tactics," adding that "abuses by the LTTE are no excuse for the government's campaign of killings, 'disappearances' and forced returns of the displaced."

According to the report:

The treatment of internally displaced persons remains a paramount concern. Some 315,000 people have had to flee their homes due to fighting since August 2006; 100,000 fled in March 2007 alone. This comes atop the 200,000-250,000 people made homeless by the December 2004 tsunami—many from the same areas as the recent fighting—and the approximately 315,000 displaced by the conflict prior to 2002. Since January 2006 more than 18,000 Sri Lankans have fled to India, often on rickety boats, as refugees.

Both the LTTE and the government have failed adequately to provide for the needs of the displaced. The LTTE has at times blocked civilians from leaving areas of conflict, while the government through its indiscriminate shelling and restrictions on humanitarian aid has compelled civilians to flee. The government has forcibly returned displaced persons after it deemed their home areas "cleared" of the LTTE, often without adequate security or humanitarian assistance in place. ...

Since the beginning of Sri Lanka's civil war more than two decades ago, successive governments have consistently failed to adequately investigate or prosecute those in the security forces responsible for serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. In cases of enforced disappearances, torture, indiscriminate attacks, and targeted killings, successive Sri Lankan governments have consistently failed to hold accountable members of the police or military who commit serious crimes.

Some observers seeking to explain this culture of impunity point to weaknesses in the criminal justice system, which has proved unable to deliver justice for victims of common crimes, let alone victims of serious crimes involving the military or police. Sri Lankan lawyers report long delays in hearings, threats to witnesses and family members, and government officials working on behalf of the accused.

These structural obstacles seriously hinder the judicial process. But they are not as significant as the government's lack of political will to prosecute soldiers, police, and other government officials and agents implicated in wrongdoing. Even when there is overwhelming evidence of government forces responsibility for abuse, successive governments have rarely conducted an investigation resulting in a successful prosecution.

Then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera highlighted the problem of impunity in the December 2006 letter he sent to President Rajapaksa: "Even when investigations are being carried out, the process of perpetrators being brought to justice is extremely slow," he wrote. "As a result, there is a perception that authorities are turning a blind eye to these matters. As such, the impression of a culture of impunity gains further credence."
HRW urged foreign governments to pressure both the Sri Lankan "government and the LTTE to encourage respect for international law, including the protection of civilians during hostilities." HRW also recommended that "concerned states" work with the UN Human Rights Council [official website] to create "strong Council resolutions" to encourage the parties to improve their practices, as well as establish a UN mission to "monitor, investigate, and report on abuses by the government." AP has more.

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