USTPAC Calls for Action based on Department of State's Report on Sri Lanka

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The United States Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC) welcomes the US Department of State's "Report to Congress on Incidents During the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka", and calls the US Congress and our Government to act on the findings by creating an international investigation mechanism, and instituting trade sanctions against Sri Lanka until full compliance is acceded by the regime in Sri Lanka.

The US Department of State on Wednesday submitted a report (Link:http://www.scribd.com/doc/21451504/Incidents-during-the-recent-conflict-in-Sri-Lanka ) mandated by the Congress "detailing incidents during the recent conflict in Sri Lanka that may constitute violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against humanity, and, to the extent practicable, identifying the parties responsible." A USTPAC spokesperson commended the State Department for its compilation of events and incidents that took place in the Vanni region in the Northeastern part of Sri Lanka early this year. "This report develops a picture of intentional and deliberate violence directed at a people whose only fault is that they are Tamils. The impartiality of the report, which exposes wrong-doings by all actors in the conflict, adds further credibility to the report," said the spokesperson.

The Department of State and the US Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka compiled the report based on the limited information that was available at the time due to tight restrictions on freedom of movement and access. The report stated, "there are allegations that GSL (Government of Sri Lanka) restrictions on access were part of a systematic attempt to hide violations of IHL (International Humanitarian Law) and human rights abuses. Some governments and organizations that were contacted during the preparation of this report indicated that they have additional information that may pertain to relevant incidents but were unwilling to provide it at this time for a variety of reasons, including fears for the safety of their sources."    USTPAC fears that it is very likely that there are many more atrocities against the Tamil people that have not yet been brought to light and urges the authorities to obtain the complete story.

Key Findings

It is important to highlight the key findings in the report, which clearly show:

  •     There have been tensions between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, the two major communities in Sri Lanka, since Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948. The Sinhalese-dominated Government of Sri Lanka and their mono-ethnic Sinhala military forces have been battling Tamil separatist militants since 1976 and have directed a large number of their attacks against the Tamil population as a whole in the Northeastern province.
  •     The vast majority of the alleged crimes were committed by the Government of Sri Lanka and its agents. This is in total violation of the role and responsibility of a state-actor in an internal conflict, including application of the Principles of Distinction and Proportionality. These crimes constitute violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and various treaties, protocols, and conventions to which the Government of Sri Lanka is a party.
  •     The deliberate and intentional nature of attacks against known civilian targets and the utter disregard for Tamils' well-being by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The events and incidents reported clearly make a strong case for IHL violations and crimes against humanity directed at the Tamil population as a whole. Even worse, the GSL (Govt. of Sri Lanka) directed the Tamil population to seek refuge in GSL-designated "no fire zones," but is alleged to have fired into these "no fire zones." The GSL declared a 48-hour ceasefire to allow civilians to leave the "no fire zone," but arbitrarily cut short the ceasefire period and began firing.
  •     Government of Sri Lanka forces killed captives and combatants seeking to surrender. Even more shocking, the military forces killed combatants after the combatants reached a surrender agreement with the government.
  •     The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Tamil militant separatist group engaged in child recruitment and forcibly prevented the escape of IDPs, further exasperating the plight of the Tamil people. Even though the LTTE was not recognized as a state actor, the LTTE as a party to the US, EU, Japan and Norway-brokered 2002 ceasefire agreement with the GSL was required to comply with IHL requirements.
  •     The systematic denial of essential goods and services to Tamil regions, including food and medicine, aimed at the weakening and destruction of the Tamil civilian population. The description of the inhumane conditions that Tamils of the region are undergoing is one of deliberately induced starvation, malnutrition, lack of medical care, disease, and deaths. Again, these are IHL violations and crimes against humanity directed at the Tamil population.
  •     Large-scale, arbitrary and extra-judicial arrests, torture, killings, and disappearances of Tamils. The Government of Sri Lanka and its armed forces have acted with shocking impunity in deliberately and intentionally eliminating large numbers of Tamil civilians. These are very serious violations of IHL and systematic crimes against humanity directed against the Tamil people.

Other Recent Similar Reports
It is worth noting that this report from the Department of State is fourth in a series of recent reports all depicting serious violations of human rights and crimes against humanity committed by the Government of Sri Lanka against the Tamil people.

Not the first time

While the events described in the Department of State report are terrible in their own right, it must not be forgotten that IHL violations and crimes against humanity have been directed against Tamils in Sri Lanka for decades by the GSL's armed forces and paramilitaries. There has been essentially no effort expended to-date by the Government of Sri Lanka to bring perpetrators of crimes against Tamils to justice. Instead, these criminal methods have become tools in an effort to subjugate and marginalize Tamils, Tamil identity, and Tamil culture in Sri Lanka, along with ethnic cleansing, colonization of the Tamil homeland and forced assimilation.

Accountability

"There are two ways such crimes can be prevented in the future. One is accountability for past crimes, and the second is solving the underlying root causes of the conflict. Having documented these serious violations, our Government cannot conduct business as usual with Sri Lanka," said the USTPAC spokesperson.

USTPAC endorses the calls made by Human Rights Watch(Link: http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/10/22/sri-lanka-us-war-crimes-report-details-extensive-abuses ) urging our Government and Congress to act on the report's findings. Specifically, USTPAC calls for:

  •     The crimes against humanity aimed at Tamils in Sri Lanka must be investigated by a UN agency or an international independent commission, followed by an international effort undertaken to bring all perpetrators and instigators of such crimes to justice.
  •     The US should impose restrictions on all financial aid and other assistance to Sri Lanka until such commission's work is complete and any subsequent judicial proceedings have reached logical conclusion. The US should also revoke any special trade status granted to Sri Lanka and refrain from promoting investments in Sri Lanka.

Solving the Underlying Root Causes of the Conflict

The second and equally important initiative to prevent future crimes against Tamils in Sri Lanka is to solve the underlying root causes of the conflict.

The report identified some of the root causes where it says, "[f]ollowing the colonial period, which was characterized by perceived British favoritism toward Tamils, the Sinhalese majority government enacted a series of nationalistic laws, one of which made Sinhala the official language in 1956. That same year more than 100 Tamils were killed in widespread violence after Tamil parliamentarians protested the new laws. A law enacted in 1972 made Buddhism the nation's primary religion. Most Tamils are Hindu."

The USTPAC urges the US Government and Congress to take bold steps and lead a UN effort to study the conflict's origins, define a framework for a solution, and help monitor its implementation and enforcement. "Our government must change its policy toward Sri Lanka, from support for what we have considered a friendly, democratic state, to action that will persuade the Government of Sri Lanka to end crimes against the Tamils, bring justice for those wronged and completely restructure the state to allow for a Tamil voice, preservation of the Tamil identity and full participation for Tamils in the life of the society," said the spokesperson for USTPAC.

In the past our government has taken bold steps to resolve similar ethnic conflicts in Northern Ireland and Kosovo and recently began playing a leadership role in Kashmir, Somalia and Darfur. It is USTPAC's hope that our government will review the findings of this report with Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh during his visit to Washington DC this November and take a lead role to help steer a solution to address the Tamils legitimate grievances, as well as bring peace and prosperity to both the Tamils and Sinhalese communities.

For further information call 202 595 3123. Visit us at http://www.USTPAC.org

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