[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] Tuesday criticized [press release] a report released by the Sri Lankan government for not taking responsibility for alleged violations of the laws of war. The Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense [official website] released its report Monday entitled, “Humanitarian Operation Factual Analysis” [text, PDF], where for the first time it admitted that the military caused civilian deaths near the end of its 26-year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive]. The report details numerous alleged abuses of LTTE against civilians including using them as human shields. Sri Lanka says it took reasonable steps to protect avoid civilian casualties. Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa [official profile], in releasing the report said [press release]: “The false claims and allegations made by Tamil Diaspora together with the LTTE international network will be laid to rest with the release of the factual analysis reports.” The report says:
The Government of Sri Lanka made every effort to protect civilians in the conflict zone through the creation of Safe Corridors and No Fire Zones, and by adhering to a “Zero Civilian casualty” policy that had been conveyed to all troops through repeated training and operation orders. Sri Lanka also took a proactive and extensive role in delivering humanitarian assistance to these civilians before, during and after the fighting. Despite the clear intent of the Government of Sri Lanka and the precautions taken, it was impossible in a battle of this magnitude, against a ruthless opponent actively endangering civilians, for civilian casualties to be avoided.
Still, HRW criticized the report for its lack of discussion over the military’s responsibility for alleged war crimes such as “frequent indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas” and summary executions of LTTE fighters. Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said: “The Sri Lankan government is finally admitting that its forces caused civilians losses during the conflict’s final months, but unconvincingly claims no responsibility. This is just the latest and glossiest effort to whitewash mounting evidence of government atrocities during the fighting.”
There is a growing number of claims that Sri Lanka was responsible for war crimes during the war with the LTTE. In May, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Christof Heyns [official website] urged [JURIST report] the UN Human Rights Council [official website] to conduct further investigations into possible Sri Lankan war crimes after reconfirming the legitimacy of a video of LTTE members being executed by members of the Sri Lankan military. Heyns’ conclusions were based on analysis by technical and forensic experts, including pathologists, video analysts and a firearms expert, and echo findings [JURIST report] that led his predecessor last year to call for an independent investigation into Sri Lankan war crimes. In April, a UN panel of experts said in a report that parties on both sides may have committed war crimes [JURIST report] during the final stages of the 26-year civil war. The Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs [official website] announced in December that the three-person panel would be allowed to visit [JURIST report] the island to investigate alleged war crimes. 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 on Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.