International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

Political power change doesn’t ensure justice for Sri Lanka

In January, the 10 year reigning Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was peacefully and democratically stripped of his power when his lost an election to former friend Maithripala Sirisena. This new brought possible hope to the idea of justice in the wake of a 26 year civil war between the Sri Lankan government and a rebel group known as the Tamil Tigers.  Although the conflict ended in 2009, Rajapaksa had a strong stance against international investigation or indictment regarding any war crimes or crimes against humanity that may have occurred in the past few decades. The election of a new president opened the possibility of Justice; however,  Maithripala Sirisena has already asserted that his administration will practice more of the same defense of Sri Lankan citizens that may be at fault or subject to investigation. The government is unwilling to allow investigations within the country and actively attempts to discourage any domestic calls for justice.

Sri Lanka Resists International Intervention. When does State Sovereignty Become Irrelevant?

Sri Lanka seems to be one of the less frequently discussed topics in international justice, despite a civil war that raged for 26 years, ending in 2009 with the government forces aided by the Indians defeating the Tamil Tigers. In January, a new government swept into power, and now it is attempting to delay, or even completely undermine the United Nations’ inquiry into war crimes committed during the civil war; the inquiry is set to be released in March as of now. The inquiry is supposed to be the catalyst of a debate at the next meeting of Human Rights Council, which will be held in March. The Council, after the meeting, can then contemplate measures to hold perpetrators accountable; the Council can actually defer to the ICC as well.

The Sri Lankan government’s position is that it can punish those accountable using its own system and commissions. A commission had already been established during the war to look into human rights abuses, including missing persons. However, this commission never made any of its proceedings or reports publicly available, despite organizing hearings. Furthermore, no prosecutions were carried out by the commission.

This begs the question: when does state sovereignty become irrelevant in terms of international justice? The Sri Lankan government has seemed rather reluctant in the past to carry out any kind of reconciliation. Should the international community intervene or give Sri Lanka another chance to carry out justice on its own?


“Lessons Learnt” Commissions in Sri Lanka

ImageSri Lanka is the new subject of an international justice inquiry due to the increased and discovery of mass crimes against humanity. Both the Tamil rebels and the Sri Lankan government and army have come under fire for supposed crimes committed. The Economist published a piece on the increased scrutiny the Sri Lankan political regime has been placed under. According to the Red Cross, as many as 16,000 people are missing since 1990 and despite continued pressure, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has not been wiling to look into the disappearances.

Even the United Nations has indicated their distrust of the Sri Lankan government and has called for investigations to be conducted, spearheaded by Navi Pillay, the UN Commissioner on Human Rights:

“On February 24th she released her draft report to the council, calling for an independent international inquiry, following an effort by experts sent in 2011 by the UN secretary-general. She says she is concerned at the government’s refusal to allow “a credible national process with tangible results”.”

Most actions taken by the government have been met with skepticism and the people are unwilling to trust Rajapaksa’s ‘commissions’. Interestingly, the government has already conducted a ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ and has suggested that a truth- and -reconciliation commission (similar to South Africa) be initiated as well. The goal of the LLRC was to obtain justice and provide information about the human rights violations that took place during the civil war. In the final report released after the LLRC, it was concluded that the Sri Lankan army did not commit mass atrocities during the civil war. Amnesty International released an article saying the LLRC did not meet its goals and was a bias war panel. Additionally, Amnesty said the LLRC did not go far enough in discussing human rights violations:

“But where it appears to really falter is in ignoring the serious evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of the laws of war by government forces, even though the report highlights the serious and systematic violations committed by the LTTE,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director.”

This brings up an interesting new element to the concept of truth and reconciliation commissions. Is it preferable for governments to conduct such reports that discuss the overall issue and ‘lessons learned’. The Amnesty analysis did say that the LLRC report did provide interesting ideas for improvements on human rights issues in Sri Lanka that the government should take seriously. It is worth considering whether Lessons Learnt commission can work in tandem with a Truth and Reconciliation commission. Further, it is unclear whether can governments and regimes be trusted to release truthful reports that contains valid statistics and prosecute criminal parties that may be associated with the states.

Thus, it is interesting that the Sri Lankan government chose to conduct this commission but it seems that it was done more as a stalling tactic and also was not done to a high degree of accuracy; making both the international community and the Sri Lankan people lose faith in the government. It is likely that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would get a similar reception unless Rajapaksa’s administration is able to change the perception of the government around this issue drastically, which would also take away scrutiny of the international community and the UN.

Road to Accountability in Sri Lanka


Next month, the United Nations Human Rights Council will vote on a resolution concerning Sri Lanka and whether or not an in vestigation can be brought forth concerning the crimes and human rights abuses on both sides of the bloody, decades long conflict during its last few months of conflict in 2009. Many member states in the UN–including the United States–want to initiate an investigation into the horrific finale of Sri Lanka’s  war and hold it accountable for its perceived gross human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. A United Nations panel reported that as many as 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the last stages of the violence between the mainly Sinhalese-dominated government and the militant rebel group LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), many of them by military shelling. Crimes against humanity have been cited on both sides of the conflict, as the Sinhalese police and armed forces were known to be notoriously brutal, including dumping bodies in mass graves and rivers and beheading its victims and placing their heads on spikes. The LTTE, conversely, was well-known to have recruited child soldiers and commit a myriad of other human rights abuses during the war. BBC News estimates that in the years before 2009, over 70,000 people had died in the last 25 years of the conflict.

However, despite the end of the conflict, the country’s government has refused to hold any officials accountable for crimes and has resisted every inquiry by the international community into investigating these human rights abuses. Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa has ignored two separate UN resolutions calling for Sri Lanka to investigate the war crimes initiated by both the LTTE and governmental forces. Sri Lanka has clearly shown that it is unwilling to start an investigation into its own actions concerning human rights abuses, so in what way can the international community force those responsible for gross human rights abuses to be held accountable? Sri Lanka is not a member-state of the ICC, so what can be done to find justice for those who suffered during the civil war–both from the LTTE and the reigning government?

Here are my sources:

Sri Lankan criticisms of Truth Commissions

So far in class and in readings, it seems to me that we have heard generally positive things about truth commissions.  The Michael Humphrey article “International intervention, justice and national reconciliation: the role of the ICTY and ICTR in Bosnia and Rwanda” suggested that a truth commission be held in Rwanda “in order to promote the creation of a more inclusive political community that international and national trials have so far not achieved” (Humphrey 502).  This editorial from the Sri Lankan Times presents a decidedly different argument.

The author, Kishali Jayawardene, is one that has been severely disillusioned by Sri Lanka’s history with truth commissions, claiming that they appeared to be “manna from heaven” but in reality have been huge and expensive disappointments.  While the author admits that the 1994 Commissions of Inquiry into the Involuntary Removal or Disappearances of Persons made good recommendations, these recommendations were largely disregarded by the government except for the payment of token reparations.  Jayawardene accuses truth commissions of being wastes of public funds, of raising the expectations of citizens while duly ignoring their human rights’ claims, and of distracting the attention of the government from more important reforms.

While the author is clearly against the practice of truth commissions, it seems to me that he more has a problem with the way that they’ve been implemented, rather than the theory behind them.  In his conclusion, the author writes that, “Sri Lankan governments… are able to resort to these tactics time and time again and without challenge from this country’s so-called ‘intellectual’ community.”  The author fails to provide an alternative to truth commissions or a suggestion for how they might be improved, but ultimately I think it’s an interesting piece in that it shows the frustration that some have with such commissions.

Sri Lanka and the Best Transitional Justice Joke Ever

As I was researching our homework project for this week, I came across a super interesting article on Sri Lanka and Transitional Justice.

I found this blogpost particularly approachable, and it was especially helpful in supplementing the knowledge I’d just gained from watching the assigned documentary. Of course, it ends with a coarse toilet joke that is entirely inappropriate (and still embarrassingly funny), but the material isp resented in an intelligent and compelling fashion.

Perhaps the most valuable quote was the following: “The situation in Sri Lanka approximates a scenario of total victory. It appears that, despite international pressure, most believe that any justice the commission metes will be little more than victor’s justice”

The failures of the Sri Lankan truth commissions makes me wonder if the international community should intervene to ensure adequate justice is served on both sides of the ball. What do you guys think?

Impunity Gap: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a notable case of an “impunity gap.” It’s widely acknowledged that crimes were committed by both sides, the government and Tamil rebels, in Sri Lank’as civil war. Yet, there is no domestic political will to hold perpetrators accountability and the international community has shirked their responsibility to call for justice. (You may also want to read a past blog post of mine on this topic.)

Watch the controversial documentary called “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” by Channel 4 and do some quick online research. You can respond with you general thoughts on the film but also try to address one or more of the following questions.

a) What are the atrocities that a transitional justice mechanism should address?

b) What is known about who is “most responsible” for atrocities?

c) What have the victims demanded in terms of justice? Is there support for a tribunal, truth commission, reparations? Is there strong domestic pressure from victims and civil society?

d) Unlike other cases of atrocities in civil war, the United Nations Security Council and Human Rights Council have failed to adequately pressure the Sri Lankan government to mete out accountability. What explains this failure? What role has the UN played so far?

e) What type of transitional justice mechanism(s) would be most appropriate in this context? And who should implement it – the UN or the Sri Lankan government?

(Please provide links to any of the information you can across in your research).