[JURIST] A UN panel of experts said in a report released Monday that the Sri Lankan government and rebel forces may have committed war crimes [report, PDF] during the final stages of the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive]. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] appointed [JURIST report] the three-person panel last year to investigate possible human rights violations during the war. Ban said that he decided to release the report to promote transparency and accountability [statement] while examining the allegations, despite warnings from the Sri Lankan government that publishing the report could lead to renewed violence [Guardian report] in the country. The panel investigators allegedly found evidence showing:
that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law was committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace.
Rights organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] responded to the report, calling for the UN to immediately launch an independent war crimes investigation [news release] in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government, which maintains that the conflict did not involve any civilian deaths, has complained that the report is “fundamentally flawed” [statement].
The Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs [official website] announced in December that a UN war crimes panel would be allowed to visit [JURIST report] the island to look into alleged war crimes in the final stages of the 26-year civil war. The decision represented a reversal after months of strong opposition [JURIST report] from the Sri Lankan government under President Mahinda Rajapaksa [official profile], who described the UN panel as an infringement of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. Instead, Rajapaksa appointed the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to investigate the final years of the conflict from the ceasefire in 2002 to its conclusion in 2009. The LLRC’s credibility, however, has been contested by several human rights organizations, which say the commission lacks objectivity [PTI report]. The change in position also followed economic sanctions, including the withdrawal of trade concessions worth $150 million per year with the EU. The government has repeatedly denied accusations that its forces violated international law during the conflict.