India should facilitate a UN-led independent probe

inquiry commission   It has been five years since the end of one the bloodiest conflicts in recent memory. A state of armed hostility and political instability that embroiled Sri Lanka for decades ended when the Sri Lankan forces claimed victory over the outlawed Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009.

The Lankan government declared a peaceful and prosperous future was about to dawn for their people and promised to heal the wounds of the conflict. However, the Sri Lankan government has failed to deliver much peace or justice to the hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans affected by the war.

The last stages of the war in 2009 were conducted in near-secrecy amid concerns of human casualties and rampant war crimes. The UN and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were asked to leave the war zone and independent media were denied access as well. The large civilian population trapped in the so-called “no-fire zones” in the north had almost no access to humanitarian aid.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, gruesome stories started emerging of what had transpired behind the curtains. The army occupied swathes of land in these areas under the pretext of keeping a close watch and preventing the rise of the LTTE.

AUN probe panel estimated that at least 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the last few months of the war alone. Allegations have been made that during the final stage of the armedarmed conflict, government forces intentionally shelled civilians, blocked food and medicine from reaching communities, and executed prisoners.

Meanwhile, witnesses say the LTTE recruited child soldiers, used civilians as human shields and killed those who tried to escape. The Lankan government has not initiated a credible investigative process and has not made any demonstrable progress towards prosecuting alleged perpetrators of the crimes committed under international law.

The government has even refused to accept the weak recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee (LLRC). Instead, the government has claimed there hasn’t been a single “civilian casualty” during the war.

The Sri Lankan authorities aggressively campaign against those who advocate accountability and an end to impunity for human rights violations throughout the country. Since the end of the conflict, human rights defenders, activists, journalists and civil society members critical of the government are regularly threatened and harassed.

This past weekend, the Sri Lankan government organised a “Victory Day” parade in the southern coastal town of Matara to celebrate its victory over the LTTE. President Mahinda Rajapaksa presided over the military parade with senior government functionaries and foreign dignitaries in attendance. Meanwhile, in the Tamil-majority north and east, the Lankan army blocked all attempts by people to publicly remember those who died in the war.

Despite two resolutions by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012 and 2013, Sri Lanka has failed to take effective steps to deliver justice for the victims of its civil war. This year, after a historic resolution was passed at the council calling for a UN Human Rights Office-led investigation, the Sri Lankan government announced its refusal to cooperate with the UNled probe. The independent investigation is key for an impartial probe into allegations of human rights violations and war crimes during the final phase of the armed conflict.

India has been heavily invested in Sri Lankan politics, playing a crucial role during many decisive moments in the last three decades. However, after reluctantly pressing the Sri Lankan government for human rights accountability, lately, India seems to have completely withdrawn from its responsibility as a UNHRC member and important south Asian country.

The new government in Delhi needs to recognise the fact that there has been no movement on justice delivery in Sri Lanka. As a responsible and emerging global power, India should own up to its responsibility and facilitate a UN-led independent probe into alleged war crimes that would begin to tell us what exactly happened in those horrific last months of the war. (Eeconomic Times)

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