UN Panel of Experts Report on the Sri Lanka Conflict

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The report of the Panel of Experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General to investigate the circumstances of the conclusion the Sri Lanka war has been made public today – full report here, BBC News article here. The report was disclosed to the Sri Lankan government a few weeks ago; regrettably and quite predictably, the government already dismissed it as incorrect and biased. As in many other cases of conflict and atrocities inspired by ethnic nationalism, several competing versions of reality have already emerged. While the government claims that it pursued a policy of zero civilian casualties, the Panel report paints a very different picture, finding widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law on both sides, but particularly on that of the government.

On the legal side of things, one of the appointed experts was the well-respected international lawyer Steve Ratner, professor of international law at the University of Michigan Law School. The report’s discussion of the applicable law and legal findings, at p. 52 et seq, seem to me to be more or less watertight. There are no flights of fancy here; even when broad or progressive, the legal findings are appropriately cautious when caution is warranted (e.g. as to whether non-state actors are bound by human rights, at para. 188).

The Panel has recommended that the Secretary-General establish an independent international investigative mechanism; he has refused to do so absent the consent of the Sri Lankan government or action by other member states. The Sri Lankan conflict has been overshadowed by other events and the international community has been remarkably passive with regard to the war crimes committed in its conclusion. Hopefully this report will not be the end of the matter.

(I would have quoted a number of paragraphs from the report, but whoever made that PDF disabled the copy and paste functions, which is really stupid beyond belief. I do hope somebody fixes that.)

UPDATE: Dov Jacobs has most helpfully created a quotable version of the report, which is available here: http://www.mediafire.com/?tl6szs1uo2991vx

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Kalana Senaratne says

April 28, 2011

Dear Marko,

Would it be accurate to state that the Panel was established to "investigate" the circumstances surrounding the final stages of the armed conflict?

Rather, it was established to "advice" the UNSG, concerning "the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience relevant to an accountability process, having regard to the nature and scope of alleged violations..." (Executive Summary). Furthermore, as the Members of the Panel have noted elsewhere in the Report: "The Panel has not conducted fact-finding as that term is understood in United Nations practice, as it does not reach factual conclusions regarding disputed facts, nor did it carry out a formal investigation that draws conclusions regarding legal liability or culpability of States, non-state actors, or individuals" (See page 3, para 9, footnotes omitted).

Rajan says

May 11, 2011

Dear Kalana,

*If evidence is what you want,let international media talk to the very people who were present in Mulliyaikal.What is that GOSL trying to hide from media if it is all innocent and maintained "zero civilian casualty" policy.???

*Satellite images,Leaked videos of execution,Thousands of eye witness accounts of survivors of conflict all point to one conclusion and that is GOSL very desperately shelled with no concern regarding for tamils.

Kalana Senaratne says

May 13, 2011

Dear Rajan,
i. I think one wouldn't need to go that far. Those directly affected have said many things before the LLRC as well, and interestingly, even the govt has been unable to prevent it from happening! This is one positive feature of the LLRC; one that external observers are reluctant to acknowledge. But I very much prefer if our local media can do what the international media would want to do: i.e. talk to those affected by the armed conflict, and carry their version of the story as well, more prominently than before. Anyway, international media groups have had access to people (may not be in a manner you would have wished, though).
ii. I wouldn't agree with your last point. If the Government did not have any concern for the Tamil people, they would have shelled 300,000 ppl - held as a human shield by the LTTE - as well. Instead, with the greatest difficulty, the Armed Forces saved them. But you and I would agree on the following: that in a conflict of this nature, civilians die (most unfortunately), even if a government adopts a 'zero casualties' policy. It is the Government's inability to acknowledge that civilians were killed/hurt, even unwittingly, which is seriously disturbing (as pointed out elsewhere).

eureka says

May 13, 2011

Dear Marko

What is the position of the terrorists in Sri Lanka when retired diplomats and officials in service come and tell LLRC that policies and practice of successive governments created terrorism:

Jayantha Dhanapala’s written submission to Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, 30 August 2010: ‘’The lessons we have to learn go back to the past – certainly from the time that we had responsibility for our own governance on 4 February 1948. Each and every Government which held office from 1948 till the present bear culpability for the failure to achieve good governance, national unity and a framework of peace, stability and economic development in which all ethnic, religious and other groups could live in security and equality.

Our inability to manage our own internal affairs has led to foreign intervention but more seriously has led to the taking of arms by a desperate group of our citizens.’’
(Dhanapala was formerly UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament and a candidate for UNSG in 2006)

Submission before Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Committee (LLRC) by Chandra Jayaratne, 23 September 2010: ‘’…... Years of inequitable allocation of national resources and consequential disparities in regional economic development, infrastructure development and public service delivery have sown the seeds of discontent and disillusionment leading to conflict, insurrections of the South and the North and even the armed struggle towards a separate administration.’’
(Jayaratne is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies and a former President of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce)

K.Godage(former diplomat) addresses LLRC, 15 September 2010:
‘’….The Tamils have undergone, and are undergoing immense hardship. We need to reach out to them…. We have persistently discriminated against the Tamil people from 1956…. ''

Elmore Perera(Founder, Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance(CIMOGG) to LLRC, 10 November 2010: '' .... Tamils were treated as being sub-human. …. Many Tamils were driven to feel that it was “better to fight and die rather than live like slaves”, in the hope that, “at least they would get a free state where Tamils can live a life of dignity”….’’

Prof Priyan Dias addresses LLRC, 07 October 2011:
‘’No one is asking now whether it is “we” who are responsible for the LTTE uprising. I think as a society we need to have that sense of guilt, have that sense of blame that we are responsible for this happening and it is only out of that sense of guilt that we can move forward.’’

Mr. Mangala Moonasinghe, 17 August 2010:
‘’… so, who started terrorism – it was we – and then gradually naturally the youth, Tamil youth, went into terrorism in the north. … So terrorism did not come on its own. We created them sir, we created them. ….’’ (Moonasinghe is a former diplomat and MP)

Submission by Dr John Goonaratne, 15 September 2010:
‘’…. If the grievances of Sri Lankan Tamils are not reconciled within Sri Lanka and are done merely to keep Chennai and New Delhi off our backs, we will only have ourselves to blame …..’’ (Dr Goonaratne was a senior civil servant in the Foreign Ministry)

Manel Abeysekera to LLRC, 23 August 2010:
‘’It is our neglect of Tamil sensitivity … the main underlying cause was our neglect of the Tamil language tantamount to an undermining of human rights of the Tamil people ....''

Submissions by Justice Weeramantry(Justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka from 1967-1972, a Judge of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) from 1991-2000) to LLRC, 29th November 2010:
‘’….. To achieve this, there are some essential prerequisites:
1. A Constitution which shields all citizens from abuse of power and authority and
guarantees them against any denial or erosion of their rights;
2. Freedom of information and complete transparency of government. ….’’