USTPAC – International Probe a Must in Sri Lanka

Washington urged to stay vigilant against Sri Lanka's ploy to buy more time

by US Tamil Political Action Council, PR Newswire, February 11, 2014

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2014 — /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — United States Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC) welcomes recent high level visits to Sri Lanka by Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Nisha Biswal and Ambassador-At-Large for Global Criminal Justice, Stephen Rapp, and their steadfast pursuit of accountability to the grave crimes committed against ethnic Tamils. USTPAC urges the United States government to bring a strong resolution at the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council setting up a credible international investigative mechanism to probe the mass atrocities unleashed on Tamil civilians by parties to the conflict.

USTPAC also draws attention to the continuing violations and threats against ethnic Tamils and Muslims including sexual violence against women in the heavily militarized North. USTPAC condemns the Sri Lankan government for denying a visa to the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Catherine Russell. USTPAC is also alarmed by the statements of senior Sri Lankan officials that setting up international investigations would bring chaos to the country, a thinly veiled threat to the safety of Tamils in the island nation.

Recently, Lalith Weeratunga, secretary to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has been lobbying Washington to convince US policymakers that more time is needed for Sri Lanka’s National Action Plan to succeed. Almost five years since the mass atrocities of 2009, which led to killings of up to 70,000 Tamils, the Sri Lankan Government’s reconciliation process has gone nowhere.  The US is expected to table a resolution calling for an international inquiry into war crimes at the 25th UNHRC session in March 2014.

“The Government of Sri Lanka and its military are among the accused, and cannot credibly investigate themselves,” said Dr. Elias Jeyarajah, speaking for USTPAC. “Giving them more time will only lead to a point of no return in a country whose militarization in the Tamil areas has steadily increased since the end of the armed conflict, and has facilitated land grabs and creating demographic imbalance in favor of the Sinhalese under the guise of reconstruction. This status quo must change,” added Jeyarajah.

Without making any attempt to resolve the underlying political grievances that led to the war, Sri Lanka is focusing on building new Sinhalese settlements in traditional Tamil areas. Rights activists fear that any extra time for ‘reconciliation’ will be used by Sri Lanka to expedite permanent demographic change.

“Even after being put on notice by the highest official of the UN Human Rights Council, the rhetoric of ‘defeating terrorism’ is still being used by Sri Lanka,” Jeyarajah continued. “It would serve Sri Lanka well to admit to the ethnic nature and the magnitude of the violations, not only at the conclusion of the armed conflict but for the last 60 years in which Tamils have been the main target of violence and marginalization.”

The Northern Provincial Council elected in September 2013, passed a three-point resolution on January 27th, calling attention to the genocidal nature of the conflict. It reiterated the calls of the UN High Commissioner and UK Prime Minister David Cameron for an independent international investigation, and resolved to conduct its own inquiry with the help of the UN into the status of the 146,000 civilians reported unaccounted for.

“In an attempt to bargain for more time, Sri Lanka’s Weeratunga has even implicated India for its role on the island in the 1980s, challenging India’s support of the US-led resolution. And his comment that an international probe will lead to chaos in Sri Lanka is a thinly veiled threat of another pogrom against the Tamils. American lawmakers whom Weeratunga is lobbying must take this threat very seriously and support a process led by the US State Department that offers an international protection mechanism to the Tamils in Sri Lanka,” concluded Jeyarajah.  Pertinent to this point is the recent assessment on the risk of mass atrocities in Sri Lanka by The Sentinel Project, which concluded that the risk remains high five years after the mass atrocities of 2009.

Media contact: Elias Jey 202-595-3123

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