HAF's New Human Rights Report Urges External Investigation into Sri Lankan War Crimes

New report details atrocities committed against Tamil civilians during civil war as well as ongoing human rights abuses.

Washington, D.C. (September 15, 2015) -- The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) released its eleventh annual human rights report earlier today amidst a call for an external independent investigation into war crimes committed by all sides during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

HAF’s report, Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights, 2014-2015, provides an overview of the country’s 26 year conflict between the Sinhalese Buddhist majority government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and details ongoing abuses against Sri Lanka’s mostly Hindu Tamil minority, in addition to recent attacks on Christians and Muslims.

The report covers:

  • The decades of violent conflict between the ethnic Sinhala-majority government and ethnic Tamil separatist groups in the Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka that took the lives of between 100,000 and 200,000 people and displaced nearly one million people.
  • The systematic recruitment or abduction of young child soldiers, some as young as 12, a common practice employed by government forces, pro-government militias, and Tamil rebel groups alike.
  • Sri Lanka’s final military offensive against the LTTE in the closing months of the war in 2009 that resulted in up to 40,000 civilian deaths of ethnic Tamils, according to the UN, two-thirds of which allegedly occurred in safe zones created by the government.
  • The 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the end of the final battle in 2009 who were put in military camps that some termed “internment camps.” As of 2014, there were still 90,000 IDPs and hundreds of Tamils whose status was still unknown.
  • The ongoing militarization of the Tamil homelands in the Northern and Eastern provinces, with security forces committing widespread, ongoing abuses and violations of minority rights, in spite of some positive steps under the current government of President Maithripala Sirisena.

The report’s release comes as the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is holding meetings in Geneva, where the question of whether to move forward on an international investigation or a domestic inquiry into the Sri Lankan civil war will be at the forefront of the agenda. Recently, U.S. State Department officials announced a reversal of its previous position and indicated an intention to back the Sri Lankan government’s plan to set up a domestic mechanism.

“The U.S. and other UNHRC member countries have a moral responsibility to deliver justice to the victims of Sri Lanka’s civil war, particularly the estimated 40,000 Tamil civilians that were massacred in the closing months of the war in 2009,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF’s Senior Director and Human Rights Fellow. “An international independent investigation is the best means to achieving accountability and justice for the victims. A purely domestic mechanism will not heal the country’s wounds or allow it to move forward.”

“There is nothing so far in Sri Lanka's history that would lead the victims [of the country's brutal war] to expect justice from the state. If the Sri Lankan government is serious [about accountability and reconciliation] it will first and foremost seek dialogue with the victims, as well as civil society, and representatives of all ethnic communities,” said Miriam Young, Director, U.S. Counsel on Sri Lanka/US Director, International Working Group on Sri Lanka. “Sri Lanka needs to undertake serious reform and reconciliation through a coherent, comprehensive, integrated process of transitional justice responding the needs and demands of the victims. There needs to be international involvement at every step of the process in order to provide guarantees that this will not be one more failed attempt at justice.”

In support of its call for an international investigation and judicial process, HAF recently distributed a human rights grant to award-winning filmmaker, Callum Macrae, to create an updated version of his acclaimed documentary film, No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka and a new shorter 30 minute advocacy video. Macrae has taken his film on an international tour and officially released the film at a press briefing today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., with upcoming Congressional briefings on Sri Lanka on Capitol Hill.

Beyond Sri Lanka, the Foundation’s latest human rights report also examines human rights conditions in nine other nations and regions across the world in 2014-2015: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bhutan, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Fiji, Saudi Arabia, and Trinidad and Tobago.

“From systemic legal and institutional discrimination, to attacks on places of worship, to restrictions on religious freedom and violence against women, Hindu minorities continue to be denied their basic human rights in these countries,” said Jay Kansara, HAF’s Director of Government Relations, who visited Bangladesh earlier this year on a fact-finding mission. “The annual human rights report goes a long way in ensuring the voices of these victims are heard.”

HAF’s human rights work was formally recognized by the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) in April, when it extended an invitation for Kansara to testify on the plight of Hindus and other religious minorities in Bangladesh.