Meenakshi Ganguly [South Asia Director, Human Rights Watch]: “The video showing summary executions during the final days of Sri Lanka’s war in May 2009 provides clear-cut evidence of war crimes. Beyond what is evident in the video, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has gathered information on the likely time and place of the executions, the identity of one of the victims, and the specific army unit likely to have been involved. The need for a criminal investigation is obvious, yet the Sri Lankan government has refused to conduct one, even when confronted by such disturbing footage.
In fact, the Sri Lankan government has increasingly made it clear that it does not intend to investigate this or any other allegations of wrongdoing by its forces during the decades-long conflict with the Tamil Tigers. The executions in the video are not the only alleged laws of war violations by the Sri Lankan armed forces during the war’s final months. There are also numerous credible reports of indiscriminate shelling of civilians, repeated attacks on known hospitals, and the enforced disappearance of a number of captured Tamil Tiger members.
Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed during the last five months of the war, and justice for Sri Lanka’s war victims on both sides is crucial. Instead, the government’s response has been to organize a conference to tout its war efforts as a “model of counterinsurgency” and call for a “re-evaluation of the rules of military engagement” in fighting terrorist groups, presumably to allow governments to ignore longstanding laws of war in counterinsurgency operations.
Justice and accountability in Sri Lanka cannot rely on the government, but depends on strong and concerted action by the international community. A UN-appointed panel of experts established to advise the Secretary General on accountability in the aftermath of the conflict concluded that the conduct of both the government and the Tamil Tigers represented a “grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during war and peace.” To prevent that “grave assault” from becoming the norm, the UN and its member states need to speak out and take action. The first step should be to establish a full international investigation of the executions in the video and other numerous credible allegations of war crimes.”
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