Right the wrong

A UN report of a probe into the final stages of the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 has said that both sides violated international humanitarian and human rights laws in a way that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report provides damning details of how government forces raped women, shot dead prisoners and shelled hospitals, UN centres and Red Cross ships. It also describes how the LTTE used civilians as human shields, and shot those who tried to flee the war zone. Tamil civilians and health workers in the war zone had drawn the world’s attention to the terrible violence that was unleashed on them by both sides. The UN report now confirms these allegations. The panel blames both sides for the large number of civilian deaths. But since the LTTE’s top leaders are no more, it will be senior government officials and military commanders who could end up in the dock.

Much of the violence that the UN panel has detailed could have been avoided had the international community played a more responsible role in the final stages of the war. Sadly it did not. Countries either looked the other way or issued weak statements calling for a ceasefire. The international community cannot escape responsibility for allowing the war crimes.

The panel has called on the government to initiate an effective accountability process beginning with genuine investigations followed by prosecution of those found guilty. The Lankan government has however rejected the report. It has powerful friends in the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council who can be expected to bail it out.

India is among those countries that did not speak up in the final stages of the war. In the UNHRC it stood by the government and enabled the passage of a watered down resolution that congratulated it for the victory over the LTTE, rather than haul it over the coals for civilian casualties. Delhi must right that terrible wrong. It must nudge Colombo to put in place a credible mechanism to investigate the final stages of the war.

Prosecution of those who are guilty of war crimes is essential not just to ensure justice to those civilians raped, maimed and killed in the Lankan civil war but to ensure that this unpleasant chapter in Sri Lankan history is never repeated.

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