Independent Report finds Sri Lankan Government Systematically Violating Human Rights of Tamils
A new and independent report on the state of human rights in Sri Lanka – the first undertaken since the end of the country’s 26-year civil war in 2009 – finds that a silent war continues in which thousands of Tamils, mostly Hindus and Christians, are still internally displaced and subject to military occupation and fierce discrimination by the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese majority.
The conflict ended violently after the government’s bloody military offensive that led to the surrender of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and left widespread destruction, the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and the displacement of the entire population living in rebel-controlled territories.
Efforts by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to undertake an investigation into violations of human rights, seizures of lands and related crimes have been thwarted by the Sri Lankan government. Thus, the investigation in December 2014 led by Anuradha Mittal, an internationally renowned expert on human rights and land issues and executive director of the Oakland Institute, is the first to take place since the war ended, conducted with the knowledge but not the cooperation of the Sri Lankan government.
The report comes on the heels of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in which he praised the government’s new leadership and offered support.
The new report, The Long Shadow of War: Struggle for Justice in Post War Sri Lanka,[http://bit.ly/SriLankaLongShadowofWar] found that:
· 6 years after the end of the war, the traditional Tamil homeland is still under heavy military occupation by at least 160,000 soldiers, one soldier for every 6 Tamil civilians. Most of the troops are Sinhalese.
· The army is engaging in large-scale property development, running luxury tourist resorts and business ventures on land it has seized from local Tamil populations. Thousands of Tamil families remain displaced on their own land, impotent witnesses of this ‘development’.
· Tamil culture and history is being systematically oppressed by a government-led effort to construct victory monuments and Buddhist shrines that speak to Sinhalese domination in former Tamil homelands, where even now few Buddhists live.
Thousands of people continue to be missing since the war ended in spite of the government’s promise to engage in a process of truth and reconciliation. A 2012 UN report referred to more than 70,000 missing while other estimates are twice that number.
While much has been made of the peaceful government transition that took place after elections in January of this year, the investigators raise concerns as to whether the new President Sirisena, has the political will or space to deal with these issues.
“International pressure is critical, and yet we seen both the US and India embrace the new leadership and offer cooperation. Their geostrategic interests should not trump a true and just reconciliation process and ignore the reality of the human rights situation and of the colonization and Sinhalization processes,“ said Ms. Mittal.
“This is a vital moment for the future of Sri Lanka. Until the new government truly replaces the culture of impunity that has existed since 2009 with a culture of responsibility and accountability, there is little hope that the Tamils and other minorities will be treated justly. It should be the responsibility of the international community, and not a political dilemma, to ensure the human and property rights of the minorities in Sri Lanka,” she said.