Hindu Human Rights in Sri Lanka: Excerpts from HAF's 2011 Report
After decades of civil war and internal strife, on May 19, 2009, the Sri Lankan government declared an end to the civil war with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the death of the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. The culmination of the conflict, however, left nearly 300,000 Tamil refugees in need of resettlement, as well as a number of other unresolved problems.
According to some sources, the government reportedly resettled more than 97 percent (approximately 270,000) of the displaced Tamil civilians to their places of origin in the Northeast by November 17, 2011 under the government's National Resettlement Strategy. Moreover, of the 11,500 LTTE soldiers who surrendered or were arrested at the end of the war, 8,500 have been rehabilitated and reintegrated, while roughly 3,000 accused of war-crimes remain under detention.
On the other hand, many international observers and Sri Lankan Tamil groups allege that the government has delayed the reconciliation and resettlement process and has not been transparent in its actions. Similarly, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), an umbrella organization for Tamil political parties, has accused the Government of attempting to alter the demographic profile of the northern and eastern parts of the country where ethnic Tamils are a majority. The Government, however, denied these allegations.
On October 24, 2011, the TNA filed a Fundamental Rights petition before the Supreme Court against the Government's move to register the lands in the North and East. Under the National Land Title Registration Program implemented by the Government in 2007, all the land in the country was to be surveyed and demarcated to ensure their ownership. Land-owners were instructed to inform the authorities following the receipt of a title certificate from the Government. The TNA, however, contended that the measure was only in operation in the North and the East (dominated by the Tamil minority) and not in other parts of the country. Consequently, TNA interpreted this move as an aggressive colonization process undertaken by the Government to dilute Tamil dominance in the North and the East.
Despite ongoing challenges, the government held elections for local bodies across the country, including the Tamil majority areas, in 2011. The TNA won in Sri Lanka's north and east, while the rest of the country continued to back the ruling United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA). The TNA won 18 of the 26 local bodies in the northern and eastern regions, leaving two seats to the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and two to the UPFA constituent, the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP). And elections for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) have not yet been held. According to the Government, NPC elections would commence after completion of the resettlement process.
In addition, towards the end of 2011, the Sri Lankan Parliament decided to set up a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), a 31-member quasi-judicial body comprising of 19 members nominated by the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and 12 by the Opposition, to formulate a political solution to the country’s longstanding ethnic issues. The PSC will have a difficult task ahead of it due to the nature and complexity of the ethnic conflict and the mutual suspicion that exists between the Tamil and Sinhalese communities.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa also established the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in May 2010 to inquire into the civil war and provide recommendations for healing and peace building. The Commission’s report confirmed a key fact — that there were “considerable” civilian casualties in the final stages of the military operation that ended in the defeat of the LTTE. This acknowledgement was the first step in the reconciliation process since the Sri Lankan government had previously insisted that there were “zero civilian casualties,” a claim that had been met with anger by ethnic Tamils and skepticism from the international community.
The LLRC, however, avoided the more difficult task of assessing responsiibility for these casualties wherever it appeared the Sri Lankan Army was at fault, citing a lack of evidence. “The report is a valuable document, but regarding the war’s terrible final weeks, it is largely an apologia for the army. The commission admits only that ‘civilian casualties had in fact occurred in the course of cross-fire,’ and blames the Tigers for most of them,” said The New York Times.
Independent of Sri Lanka’s internal inquiries, the United Nations and other international bodies have conducted their own investigations into the conflict. For instance, a three-member Panel of Experts, headed by Marzuki Darusman, was appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2010 to advise him on human rights and humanitarian law violations during the last phase of the civil war. The Darusman Panel submitted its report on April 12, 2011, accusing both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army of committing war-crimes. The panel found that there were “credible allegations” of serious violations of international law. Ban Ki-moon, however, said that he could not order an international investigation into the deaths but would hold an inquiry into the events in the final months of the war. The Panel of Experts’ report was dismissed by many in Sri Lanka as biased and partisan.
Furthermore, according to the International Crisis Group, “[There are] reasonable grounds to believe the Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible. There is evidence of war crimes committed by the LTTE and its leaders as well, but most of them were killed and will never face justice.” The Crisis Group argued that the destruction of the LTTE came at the cost of “immense civilian suffering and an acute challenge to the laws of war.” Consequently, they called for an international inquiry into the intentional shelling of civilians, hospitals, and humanitarian operations by the Sri Lankan security forces. At the same time, they have urged an examination into the intentional shooting of civilians and the intentional infliction of suffering on civilians by the LTTE. Finally, the Crisis Group lamented the possibility that other countries may be considering “the Sri Lankan option” – unrestrained military action, refusal to negotiate, and disregard for humanitarian issues – as a way to effectively deal with insurgencies and other violent groups.
Despite the end of the hostilities, a large group of LTTE sympathizers around the world continue to make strident allegations against the Sri Lankan government as well as raise funds for suspect activities. Sri Lankan politicians, military officers, diplomats and intellectuals have emphasized the clandestine agenda of LTTE elements and the continued potential threat they constitute to Sri Lanka. On August 1, 2011, the Sri Lankan Government updated a request to the European Union (EU) to list front organizations of the LTTE as terrorist entities. The EU also re-listed the LTTE as a terrorist entity through a regulation implemented by the Council on July 18, 2011.
According to reports, individuals arrested by European and other international authorities in 2010 and 2011 were found to be members of LTTE-affiliated groups such as the Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC), the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), and the Tamil Youth Organization (TYO). For instance, on May 21, 2011, a Norway-based leader of the LTTE, Perinpanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyawan, was arrested by the Dutch Police and produced in a court in Oslo, Norway. A Dutch court also convicted and sentenced five LTTE supporters of extorting money from other Dutch Tamils. They were charged with financing the LTTE’s terrorist activities and for blackmailing and threatening the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in Holland.
A report released by the US Department of State on August 18, 2011, claimed that overseas cadres of LTTE continue to procure weapons, while the LTTE’s supporters in the diaspora remained persistent in supporting the organization financially. It alleged that, despite its military defeat in Sri Lanka at the hands of Government Forces, the LTTE's international network of financial support continue to exist. This assessment was reinforced by the International Crisis Group, which stated, “[M]ost Tamils abroad remain profoundly committed to Tamil Eelam, the existence of a separate state in Sri Lanka.” However, there is now a divide between the diaspora Sri Lankan Tamils and the Tamils who continue to live in Sri Lanka. The Crisis Group’s report concludes that the gap between the diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka has widened: “Most in the country are exhausted by decades of war and are more concerned with rebuilding their lives under difficult circumstances than in continuing the struggle for an independent state. There is no popular support for a return to armed struggle.”
Given the enduring complexity of the situation, only a combination of meaningful and substantive actions by the Sinhala political leaders in Sri Lanka, and careful, non-partisan support from international agencies and actors can pave the way for a truly multi-ethnic, multi-party democracy in Sri Lanka.
The ethnic Sinhalese arrived in Sri Lanka in the sixth century BCE, probably from northern India. Buddhism was introduced around the mid-third century BCE, and a great civilization developed at the cities of Anuradhapura (from circa 200 BCE to circa 1000 CE) and Polonnaruwa (from about 1070 to 1200 CE). The original inhabitants of the island were believed to be the aboriginal Veddahs. The Sinhalese believe they are descendants of King Vijaya who came from eastern India with a small army, conquered the island, and settled there around the 6th century BCE.
Between 237 BCE to 1070 CE, Sri Lankan Buddhists and various Indian kings, mainly Tamils, fought for control of the nation, with Indian kings and Hinduism dominating the period. King Vijayabahu drove the Cholas, a south Indian Hindu dynasty, out of Sri Lanka and reestablished the preeminence of Buddhism on the island. Subsequently, it became mandatory for the Sinhalese king to be a Buddhist. Later the country was divided and ruled by separate kings, including a Tamil kingdom in the north, until the Europeans conquered the island.
Occupied by the Portuguese in the 16th century and by the Dutch in the 17th century, the island was ceded to the British in 1796, became a crown colony in 1802, and was united under British rule by 1815. The Europeans established tea, coffee, sugar, cinnamon, rubber, and indigo plantations on the island, and the British brought nearly one million Tamil laborers from India to work in the tea plantations.
In the 1900s, the Ceylonese started a struggle for independence from the ruling British and won its independence on February 4, 1948. In 1970, the country’s name was changed to Sri Lanka and it became a republic in 1972. Tensions between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists in northern Sri Lanka erupted into war in 1983.
The violent conflict between the Sinhala-majority government and Tamil terrorist groups was not a religious conflict per se, but rather a deeply complex problem involving a combination of historical, geographical, ethnic, linguistic, and religious factors. For example, the LTTE, the primary Tamil militant organization, did not identify itself as a religious-based organization.
The LTTE fought for an independent state (Tamil Eelam) in the north and east regions of the island. A cease-fire was declared by both parties in December 2001. Norwegian-brokered peace talks led to a ceasefire agreement between the government and Tamil rebels in late 2002, but both the government and Tamil rebels violated the truce. Renewed hostilities broke out again in late 2005 with increased intensity. Both sides claimed that they were willing to abide by the ceasefire agreement, eventually leading to a settlement.
The Sri Lankan government ended its truce with the LTTE on January 2, 2008, causing great concern among international arbiters. The civil war took a heavy toll on this island nation, with nearly 100,000 fatalities in the three decades of conflict. Moreover, the fighting has left hundreds of thousands of civilians, primarily Tamils, displaced from their homes, while more than 100,000 were forced to flee in March 2007 alone. The 300,000 refugees at the end of the final battle in 2009 were put in military camps that some termed “internment camps,” although the Sri Lanka government claimed they were refugee camps. Throughout the years, both parties committed extrajudicial killings, abductions, participated in communal violence, and intentionally attacked civilians.
The island's population is approximately 74% Sinhalese and about 8% Tamils. The south, west, and central regions of the island are primarily inhabited by the Sinhalese, while the Tamils reside in the north, east, and plantations in the central hills. The Tamil northeast covers an area of about 7,500 square miles. The Sinhalese majority are Buddhist, while most Tamils are Hindus, with Christian and Muslim minorities.
By 1948, there were more English-language schools in the Tamil-dominated Jaffna city than in the rest of the island. A disproportionate number of Tamils occupied positions of prominence in post-independence Sri Lanka, such as doctors and lawyers in the civil service. This led to Sinhalese resentment and a perception that the British gave preferential treatment to the Tamils.
Sinhala Buddhist revivalism and nationalism had its origin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even before Sri Lanka became independent, Buddhist activists and ideologues -- monks and laypersons, educators, and politicians -- accused the British of “betraying” Buddhism and spoke of a need to restore Buddhism to its rightful place in the life and governance of the country. Sinhala Buddhist revivalism and nationalism was supported by and served the interests of a rising Sinhala Buddhist middle class and businessmen, some of whom were implicated in the anti-Muslim riots of 1915, which were directed against Muslim shopkeepers and businessmen.
The Jaffna Association (JA) was the only political organization of Jaffna Tamils. They wanted self-determination for Tamils in the north and east of the island. The JA was involved directly in much of Jaffna’s social and economic development and Tamil political aspirations. In 1915, the British agreed to nominate a JA leader as the Tamil member of the Legislative Council. In 1919, the Ceylon National Congress (CNC) was formed for obtaining greater autonomy for the people.
Initially the JA wanted to negotiate separately with the British to protect minority rights. However, Sir P. Arunachalam, a good friend of JA leaders, persuaded Tamils to forge a united front with the Sinhalese to achieve more authority for the entire island. The Sinhalese assured the Tamils of an agreed number of conditions, including a separate Tamil nation, or Tamil Eelam, but ultimately, they refused to keep their promises. This led to a feeling of disillusionment and betrayal among the Tamil Leadership, and in 1921, the Tamils formed the Tamil Mahajana Sabham (TMS).
Ceylon won its independence from the British in 1948. When the British departed, power was transferred to the Sinhala majority, although Tamil leaders were in the forefront of the freedom movement. In 1949, the government of D.S. Senanayake passed legislation that stripped the citizenship of a sizable number of Tamil descendants of plantation laborers from India, leaving them stateless. This reduced the Tamil voting power in Parliament from 33% to 20%. Furthermore, in 1962 and again in 1965, several hundred thousands of Tamils who worked in the estates were expelled by the Sri Lankan government. Many of these Tamils were not granted full citizenship rights until 2003.
Successive governments pursued resettlement policies, bringing Sinhalese from the south and settling them into Tamil areas in the north and east. This became a further source of tension between Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim communities. The Trincomalee district was colonized by the Sinhalese with the help of the government in 1948, and again in the 1950s and 1960s. The Sinhalese population grew from 4.4% in 1946 to 29.1% in 1981. There was an official plan in the mid-1980s to settle 30,000 Sinhalese in the Northern Province, giving each settler land and funds to build a house. Each community was armed with rifles and machine guns for protection. And in the 1990s, Tamils were driven out from Weli Oya, or Manal Aru, in the Northern Province, while the Sinhalese settled there under the protection of the Special Task Force.
The Sinhala majority government continued to pursue discriminatory policies, including the Sinhala Only Act of 1956 that replaced the official language from English to Sinhala and excluded Tamil. As a result, countless Tamils serving in government employment, who were well versed in English but not in Sinhalese, became unemployed. In practice, the business of government continues to be carried out in English, though the Sinhalese version is preferred.
While the Sinhala Only Act passed in 1956, Prime Minister Bandaranaike worked with the Tamil Federal Party Chief Chelvanayakam to make Tamil the administrative language in the Tamil-speaking north and east regions through the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957. However, Bandaranaike reneged under pressure from Sinhalese nationalists. The Federal Party politicians launched a peaceful protest against this decision and planned to hold a convention in Vavniya. To disrupt the convention, on May 22, 1958, Sinhalese mobs attacked the convention participants traveling by trains.
In response to the attacks by Sinhalese extremists, Tamils rioted in the east and killed 56 Sinhalese fishermen. Moreover, in Jaffna, the Buddhist Naga Vihara temple was destroyed, and some Sinhalese owned businesses were burned. Overall, the 1958 riots led to between 150 and 200 Tamil deaths, with thousands more assaulted. The violence also resulted in the looting of Tamil owned properties and the displacement of more than 25,000 Tamil refugees, who were relocated to the north.
In 1970, the government began to suppress Tamil culture by banning the importation of Tamil language films, books, magazines, and journals from India. Additionally, Tamil political organizations, such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) and the Tamil Youth League (TYL), were banned. Foreign exchange programs for Tamil students going to Indian universities were stopped and external degree programs, including those of London University, were abolished. The official name of the country was also changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka, which had Sinhalese origins. All of these steps alienated large segments of the Tamil population.
The idea of a separate nation -- Tamil Eelam – emerged in 1972 with the formation of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). TULF, however, was prohibited from contesting parliamentary elections.
Tamils continued to be targeted by Sinhalese extremists, and between May 31 and June 2, 1981, a Sinhalese mob went on a rampage, burning the market area of Jaffna, the office of a Tamil newspaper, the home of the Member of Parliament from Jaffna, and the Jaffna Public Library, and killing four people. The destruction of the Jaffna Public Library was the incident that appeared to cause the most distress to the people of Jaffna, as it was South Asia's largest library at the time. The 95,000 volumes in the Public Library destroyed by the fire included numerous culturally important and irreplaceable manuscripts. In 1991, the then president of Sri Lanka publicly admitted that his party members, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake, were directly involved in the burning of the library.
The next significant event was the “Black July” riots, which began after the failure of 25 years of negotiations for autonomy for Tamil speaking areas under a federal framework. Starting on July 23, 1983, the riots led to the killing of between 1,000 and 3,000 Tamils. More than 18,000 homes and numerous commercial establishments were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Tamils fled the country to India, Europe, Australia, and Canada. The widespread violence led thousands of Tamil youths to join various Tamil militant groups, including the LTTE.
Many young Tamils favored using violent means to achieve their ends and in 1972, the Tamil New Tigers (TNT) was founded, led by Velupillai Prabhakaran. The TNT was responsible for several high profile assassinations in 1975, including Alfred Duraiappah, the Mayor of Jaffna, as well as some police officials. They committed bank robberies to fund their activities. In 1976, TNT joined the Subramaniam group to form the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, which was later joined by Anton Balasingham. On July 23, 1983, LTTE ambushed and killed 13 government soldiers in Jaffna. Two days later, on July 25, the 13 soldiers were to be buried in Colombo. Sinhalese civilians, who had gathered at the cemetery, started killing Tamils and looting and burning property. The violence, directed against Tamils in Colombo, soon spread throughout the country. Initially, 20,000 Tamils in Colombo became displaced and the figure gradually rose to 50,000.
Over the next 25 years, there would be many more casualties, ceasefires, undermined ceasefires, one failed peacekeeping mission during the Rajiv Gandhi-led Government of India, and the introduction of suicide bombings as a lethal weapon for the first time in modern history. A suicide mission allegedly by an LTTE sympathizer took the life of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985. The violence escalated in 2009 with the final military offensive by the Sri Lankan military, leading to the death of the LTTE leader, the final capitulation and decimation of the LTTE, and the internment of nearly 300,000 Tamils in “refugee camps” awaiting resettlement.
The Constitution accords Buddhism the "foremost place" and commits the Government to protecting it, but does not recognize it as the state religion. The Constitution also provides for the right of members of other religious groups to practice freely their religious beliefs. However, by affording Buddhism a special place in the Constitution, it relegates other religions to an inferior status and demonstrates government preference for one religion over others.
Most members of the majority Sinhala community are Theravada Buddhists, while the Tamil community is predominantly Hindu. The Muslim population is primarily Sunnis, but there is a small minority of Shi'a, including members of the Bohra community. Almost 80% of Christians are Roman Catholics, with Anglican and other mainstream Protestant churches also present in a number of cities. Moreover, Evangelical Christian groups have grown in recent years. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has four departments that deal specifically with Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian affairs.
Religious freedom in Sri Lanka has long been an issue of contention and it is often difficult to differentiate between religious and ethnic discrimination since the two are frequently intertwined. Nonetheless, a number of Hindu temples and religious institutions have been targeted and destroyed during the course of the civil war. According to past statistics, for instance, by 1992 over 1,700 Hindu temples had been destroyed in the conflict. And since then, many more have been destroyed. Moreover, reports indicate that in the final days of fighting in April and May 2009, the LTTE located artillery pieces next to religious facilities and the army fired heavy weapons at the same sites, often while they were in use as shelters for civilians.
There were also a number of allegations of attacks against churches and evangelicals in 2009, and the Sri Lanka government pursued anti-conversion legislation, first introduced in Parliament in 2004.
General Violence and Repression
As noted above, the conflict between the Sri Lankan military forces and the LTTE involved war crimes by both sides and resulted in thousands of deaths, refugees, and the destruction of religious institutions. The systematic recruitment or abduction of young child soldiers, some as young as 12, was a common practice employed by government forces, pro-government militias, and Tamil rebel groups alike. The pro-government militias, for instance, were allowed to operate freely in areas controlled by government forces and the Sri Lankan army often actively assisted them in kidnapping young boys.
On October 3, 2008, former U.S. President George W. Bush signed a law allowing members of military forces and armed groups who recruit child soldiers to be arrested and prosecuted. The Child Soldiers Accountability Act made it a federal crime to recruit any person under the age of 15 and allowed the government to take action against violators who are on U.S. soil, even if the violations occurred outside of the United States. In late 2008, the Sri Lankan government, United Nations Children’s Education Fund, and Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), a splinter group that defected from the LTTE, entered into an agreement that forced the TMVP to cease recruiting child soldiers. The agreement set forth a timetable to enable the release of all children who were training as soldiers with the TMVP. According to the BBC, the TMVP had 133 identifiable children among its forces as of October 2008.
The recruitment of child soldiers, forced abductions, and disappearances at the hands of security forces and pro-government militias has reduced drastically after the end of the war, although there are still some reported cases of disappearances and abductions.
The government has continued to harass, intimidate, and shut down news websites and other media organizations critical of its policies. Many journalists claim they are subject to threats and intimidation from unknown sources. The Lanka e-News offices, for instance, were set on fire by unidentified attackers in January 2011. And in March, the editor of Lanka-e-News, Bennett Rupasinghe, was arrested by the police. Journalists believe that the arrest was intended to intimidate independent journalists. In addition, Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan, news editor of the Tamil-language daily Uthayan, was attacked by a group of men wielding iron bars near his home. At least four journalists working for the Uthayan newspaper have been killed since May 2006 because of its alleged pro-nationalist Tamil stance.
Numerous websites, including Lanka e-News, have also been blocked by internet service providers following government orders. Moreover, a Lanka-e-News cartoonist, Prageeth Eknaligoda, has been missing since January 24, 2010 - two days before the presidential polls in Sri Lanka. Eknaligoda purportedly supported the candidacy of presidential challenger and former army chief, General Fonseka. According to recent news reports, Eknaligoda’s body was dumped in the sea by men hired by the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary and close to Member of Parliament Duminda Silva.
The government has further tried to suppress political oppoenents. For example, supporters of General Fonseka have been harassed, intimidated, and attacked by government forces. After Fonseka challenged President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a presidential election and lost, he was arrested on a variety of charges. A court in Sri Lanka jailed the former army chief in November 2011 for three years for implicating the government in war crimes. The court ruled that he lent credence to allegations that the defence secretary ordered Tamil Tigers to be killed as they tried to surrender in May 2009.
There have also been reports of a renewed break down in law and order in Jaffna, in the northern region of country, in January 2011.
Constitution of Sri Lanka
The Constitution of Sri Lanka declares that the country is a “democratic socialist republic” and provides Buddhism “the foremost place,” while assuring “all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14 (1)(e).” Article 10 provides “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” to every individual, and Article 14 (1)(e) provides every citizen the freedom “to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice or teaching.” Additionally, Article 14 entitles citizens to freedom of speech, peaceful assembly and association, as well as the freedom “to enjoy and promote his own culture and to use his own language.” The Constitution further guarantees equality before the law and bars discrimination based on race, religion, caste, or language. The government’s attacks on Tamil civilians, the forced relocation of Tamil refugees during the war, and discrimination against Tamil culture and language have violated Sri Lanka’s obligations under its constitution. Furthermore, the ongoing suppression of political dissent and free speech violates Article 14.
International Human Rights Law
Sri Lanka has not upheld its responsibilities under human rights law, although it is party to the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The government’s systematic persecution of its Tamil and Hindu minority specifically violates Article 18 of ICCPR, which protects the basic “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” and Articles 26 and 27 where religious minorities are guaranteed equality before the law and freedom of religion without discrimination.
Futhermore, the conduct of the government and rebel groups during the ongoing civil war, where large numbers of civilians and primarily Tamils/Hindus have been killed or displaced, violate all basic standards of human rights law.
It is important to reiterate that the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE was not a religious dispute, but rather a highly complex and multi-dimensional issue, requiring international intervention and mediation to resolve.
Both the government and the LTTE were responsible for widespread human rights abuses and did little to alleviate the plight of ordinary civilians. Consequently, HAF calls on the Sri Lankan government to make serious efforts to protect the rights of its minorities, particularly Hindu Tamils, who now have to be resettled. Religious persecution and ethnic discrimination has to stop. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon the government to allow aid workers and international agencies to assist in the rehabilitation and resettling of displaced Tamils.
It is also critical to establish a truly independent war crimes tribunal to inquire into the abuses committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces. Moreover, the government has to act on the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconcilation Commission (LLRC). The LLRC has recognized that Sri Lanka is suffering “from a crisis of institutionalized impunity for human rights violations by state forces and those working in collaboration with the state” and it is therefore incumbent on the government to vigorously and transparently commit itself to bringing about the required changes in its functioning. LLRC’s recommendations that the government investigate and hold to account those responsible for abductions, disappearances, and attacks on journalists – including those committed by armed pro-government Tamil parties should also be pursued.
Now that the LTTE has been defeated and the civil war has come to an end, the Sri Lankan government should immediately begin setting up mechanisms that will decide the formation of autonomously governed regional states within a larger federal framework to prevent a resurgence of violence. Without an adequate power-sharing agreement and addressing Tamil grievances, experts warn that a military victory will not bring lasting peace.
It is also important, indeed necessary, that the Tamil Diaspora play a constructive role in the rehabilitation of Tamils in Sri Lanka, the welfare of the Tamil minority in particular, and the Sri Lankan state in general. Without such a commitment, there will be a tendency to continue the old battles and undermine peace efforts. The Diaspora had a major role in fundraising for the Tamil Tigers, including extortion and blackmail of donors. Such activities must end, and serious efforts have to be made to engage constructively in the political and civic life of Sri Lanka.
Finally, HAF concurs with the call of the International Crisis Group that urges Sri Lanka to do the following:
- "Cooperate fully with international efforts to investigate alleged war crimes, including a UN-mandated international inquiry, guaranteeing free access to the conflict area and effective protection of witnesses.”
- "Try LTTE cadres suspected of war crimes in open court, allowing them and witnesses against them full protections required by international law and permitting international oversight, or release them if there is insufficient evidence.”
- "Invite the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, torture, violence against women, the right to food, the right to health, the protection of human rights while countering terrorism, and the situation of human rights defenders, and the special representatives on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and on children and armed conflict, to visit Sri Lanka to investigate the conduct of the last year of hostilities.”
- "Compile, with the assistance of the ICRC and/or the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, a full and public register of those killed, wounded and missing from the final months of the war, including the circumstances of their death, injury or disappearance; and issue death certificates and provide financial compensation for civilians killed or wounded and for property destroyed or damaged.”
- "Provide ICRC with full access to all places of detention, including where LTTE suspects or surrendees are being held, and allow detained individuals full protections under international law.”