1 Dec 2010

WikiLeaks: US memo accuses Sri Lanka president of war crimes

Channel 4 News uncovers a WikiLeaks cable which appears to show the United States believes responsibility for alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka rests with its leaders, including President Rajapakse.

WikiLeaks cables show US belief in Sri Lanka 'war crimes'

The cable, released today by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, and unearthed by Channel 4 News, was sent from the US Embassy in Colombo on 15 January this year and is headed: “Sri Lanka war crimes accountability: the Tamil perspective”.

In it, Ambassador Patricia Butenis tackles what the cable describes as “the most difficult issue”, of who in Sri Lanka is accountable for war crimes allegedly committed over the country’s 26-year civil war, particularly towards the last few months of the conflict.

The WikiLeaks website has been under sustained cyber attack for most of today, but in a short break Channel 4 News was able to obtain the Sri Lanka cable. Finish

Ms Butenis writes in the communication that it is “unsurprising” that Sri Lanka’s government has not investigated the issue, noting “there are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power.”

Responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapakse. Diplomatic cable sent by US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, January 2010.

The cable goes on to say: “In Sri Lanka, this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapakse and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka”.

Statement from US State Department to Channel 4 News

"The State Department will not comment on the authenticity of any of the documents released by Wikileaks.

Diplomats' internal reports do not represent a government’s official foreign policy. In the United States, they are one element out of many that shape our policies, which are ultimately set by the President and the Secretary of State.

The United States does not intend to prejudge the outcomes of Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.

We believe it is important that the commission's work address the needs of the citizens of Sri Lanka who were, after all, the primary victims of this long and terrible conflict.

The United States looks to the commission to apply international best practices, as outlined in our August 11, 2010 report to Congress.

One important indication of its effectiveness will be whether the commission undertakes a serious and credible inquiry into allegations of war crimes and makes public recommendations based on its finding.

We believe that the Commission's mandate is broad enough to enable it to follow the trail of any evidence that is presented."


The cable comes to light as new questions are being asked over war crimes in Sri Lanka following a video broadcast on Channel 4 News last night, which appears to show government troops executing Tamil men and women in the last few weeks of war.

The UN Special Rapporteur told Channel 4 News that the footage required more investigation.

“It is shocking indeed, and clearly deserves more investigation,” he said.

Read more about Sri Lanka's civil war in a Channel 4 News special report 

Channel 4 News has sent the new video to the UN panel investigating allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka. The video is a longer version of one which already sparked a United Nations (UN) investigation 16 months ago when it first came to light.

The Sri Lankan government maintains both videos are fakes.


The video and cable have both emerged as President Rajapakse visits the UK on a private trip.

He was due to speak at the Oxford Union but his appearance there has been cancelled due to “security concerns”.

He met Defence Secretary Liam Fox earlier today in a private meeting at the MoD, his spokesman told Channel 4 News. He declined to comment further on the meeting.


Liliana De Marco Coenen, a lawyer at the International Bar Association (IBA), told Channel 4 News: “The IBA supports accountability for war crimes and there are a number of actions, including the wilful killing of civilians, which are recognised to be war crimes under international law.”

Amnesty International called on the UK police to investigate the war crimes allegations while the President is on UK soil.

“We are calling on the police and UK judiciary to examine any of the evidence alleging war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka…to see whether any of the members of the Sri Lankan government who are represented in the UK have run afoul of international laws which would trigger UK jurisdiction,” Mr Zarifi told Channel 4 News.