At the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva a US-led resolution is being debated, which seeks to help resolve the outstanding issues of accountability and reconciliation resulting from the end of Sri Lanka‘s long and bloody civil conflict in 2009. This resolution is not only vital to the prospects of peace and stability but is also a litmus test of the international community’s resolve to protect international law and reaffirm respect for human rights.
The conflict in Sri Lanka ended in May 2009 following a major offensive by government forces against the Liberation Tigers. A panel of experts report on Sri Lanka, mandated by the UN secretary general, says tens of thousands of civilians died in the final months of the war and the panel found credible allegations to indicate that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by both sides.
Establishment of military, rather than independent, courts of inquiry to investigate some army and navy actions suggests true accountability will not be forthcoming from within Sri Lanka. In November 2011 the UN Committee Against Torture published a damning report on Sri Lanka, revealing the extent of allegations of human rights violations and torture by state actors. The militarisation of the Tamil majority areas in the north of the island, and the curtailment of their economic, political and social rights, continues to increase tensions between already polarised communities and undermines prospects for peace.
The US resolution calls for implementation of the constructive recommendations on reconciliation made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission; asks the government to present a plan to implement the recommendations and investigate the alleged violations at the end of the conflict; and offers international support and technical assistance to Sri Lanka to help address these issues. This resolution, if implemented, would be an important first step in ensuring long-lasting peace.