16 Apr 2011

UN leak points to ‘crimes against humanity’ in Sri Lanka war

A leaked United Nations report indicates “credible allegations” of Sri Lanka war crimes. Video first broadcast by Channel 4 News, showing alleged Tamil executions, formed a key part of the evidence.

A leaked version of the long-awaited report by the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) panel reveals “credible allegations” of war crimes which – if proven – suggest a “grave assault on the entire regime of international law”.

The report estimates that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in the final four months of Sri Lanka‘s civil war in 2009.

It indicates that actions by both the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Sri Lanka civil war: evidence of war crimes? (Getty)

These alleged crimes include executions, rape and torture by government forces. The leaked report also lists the shelling of civilians inside “no-fire zones”, the “systematic shelling” of hospitals and attacks on the UN and Red Cross.

The LTTE stands accused of refusing civilians permission to leave the conflict zone and “using them as hostages” in a “buffer zone”.

The UN panel also says that authorities “sought to intimidate and silence the media and other critics of the war through a variety of threats and actions, including the use of white vans to abduct and to make people disappear”.

The Sri Lankan government has not yet responded in full to the allegations – a spokesman said earlier that the report was “under study”. But in an earlier statement officials said the investigation was “fundamentally flawed”. It has also been called a “conspiracy” in the Sri Lankan media.

Read more – Sri Lanka ‘war crimes’: UN report

Call for independent investigation

Yolanda Foster from Amnesty International has told Channel 4 News “this report is a call to action” and that an international independent investigation should now be set up. She said it would be difficult for the Sri Lankan government to “push back” against allegations on this scale.

'Crimes against humanity' - leaked extracts from UN report on Sri Lanka war
The panel's determination of credible allegations reveals a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to this day by the Government of Sri Lanka.

The Government says it pursued a "humanitarian rescue operation" with a policy of "zero civilian casualties".

In stark contrast, the panel found credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Click here: full executive summary - via War Without Witness

Video first broadcast by Channel 4 News used as evidence

The 26-year war officially finished in summer 2009, when the Sri Lankan army defeated the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) in an area the government named the “no-fire zone”.

On the 25 August 2009 Channel 4 News received a video via email from a group calling itself Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka.

It showed naked, bound men being executed with a shot to the back of the head by two men in khaki uniforms on what appears to be a dirt road. It is bookended by two executions; by the end the bodies of nine naked men lie in the wasteland.

Soon after Channel 4 News found itself involved in the unfinished business of Sri Lanka’s bitter civil war, and into the centre of an argument which involved human rights organisations, the United Nations, the American ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and most vocally and actively the government of Sri Lanka.

In January 2010, a UN investigation concluded that the video “appears authentic”.

Read more – Sri Lanka execution video ‘appears authentic’

WARNING: Jonathan Miller’s report contains images that some viewers may find distressing.

Sri Lanka: a secret war, frustrating and tense
For any foreign reporter visiting the island it was generally a barely endurable excercise in frustration and the tension. Frustration at interminable briefings in Colombo from government officials telling you virtually nothing. Or highly sanitised visits "to the front" during which one would be shown next to nothing. The final months covered by this UN report and the aftermath remained - typically - a very secret affair.

The amount of TV footage is minimal. The eyewitnesses to hospitals being shelled and civilian areas hit were not journalists - foreign or Sri Lankan in almost all cases - but courageous and exhausted hospital doctors and NGO officials. Most of them Sir Lankans. Most of them putting themselves at great risk.
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UN leak reveals 'credible evidence' of war crimes