A report on Sri Lanka’s civil war shows new evidence that the government may have covered up proof of human rights violations.
A team of international lawyers on Tuesday said security forces systematically destroyed mass burial sites of civilians, and called on the UN to launch its own investigation into their findings.
NGos and the international media were prevented from witnessing the final months of Sri Lanka’s 25 year civil war as government forces defeated the Tamil Tigers in the north of the country, a battle in which the UN believes 40,000 people died.
It makes it perhaps more difficult to prove the guilt because the evidence has been destroyed, but on the other hand when people destroy evidence it’s because they know they’ve done something wrong.
The international team of investigators said it has found evidence that civilians were deliberately targeted by bombardment and subject to other war crimes between late 2008 and into 2009.
Violations of international law were committed by both sides, but the investigation found evidence that Sri Lankan Security Forces were responsible for the vast majority, including widespread torture, sexual violence and enforced disappearances.
Investigators also describe such established command and control structures that charges of crimes against humanity could be leveled against senior military commanders, government officials and members of the Tamil Tigers.
The report – commissioned by an Australian law policy group and written by experts on international criminal law and war crimes – also found evidence that many of the crimes continue to this day, perpetrated by the Sri Lankan armed forces on the civilian population.
William Schabas, a professor of International Law at Middlesex University and one of the authors of the report, said a particular concern now is attempts to cover up the crimes committed.
“It makes it perhaps more difficult to prove the guilt because the evidence has been destroyed, but on the other hand when people destroy evidence it’s because they know they’ve done something wrong,” Schabas said.
US visa row
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has refused a visa request for a US State Department official, the US Embassy has said after Washington signalled it would propose a UN resolution against the South Asian state over the alleged war crimes.
Tensions rose after US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal voiced frustration on Saturday over Sri Lanka’s failure to punish military personnel linked to reported atrocities in a civil war that the Colombo government won in 2009 against separatist Tamil rebels.
Biswal, speaking after a two-day visit to Colombo, said Washington would table a third UN human rights resolution against Sri Lanka in March to address the allegations because its human rights climate has been worsening.
The US Embassy in Colombo on Tuesday said the Sri Lankan government had turned down a visa application for Catherine Russell, the US ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, and it called the decision “regrettable”.